Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also bring on a host of new challenges, including some changes to your oral health. While some pregnancy-related dental issues are relatively minor, others can be more serious; therefore, taking good care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy is crucial for maintaining your overall health, as well as the baby’s.
Here are some of the most common oral changes women may experience during pregnancy, along with dental treatments available to help you manage any issues and keep your smile healthy.
How Does Pregnancy Affect Your Oral Health?
Why is oral health important during pregnancy? The main reason you want to keep your mouth healthy is because of fluctuating hormone levels that occur during pregnancy. With these hormonal changes, women may experience new dental problems they’ve never had before or the worsening of problems that already existed.
Changing hormones can make your gums more sensitive and susceptible to inflammation, bleeding, and infection. Additionally, the increased blood flow to your gums can make them tender and swollen. These changes put you at higher risk for developing dental problems, like gingivitis or periodontal disease.
Women may also be more at risk for cavities because of pregnancy. This is mainly because many women change their eating habits while pregnant, allowing cavity-causing bacteria to build on the surface of the teeth. Bacteria can also be transmitted to the baby after delivery due to mouth-to-mouth contact, putting the baby at risk for early childhood cavities and other dental problems at a young age.
Furthermore, some people believe that dental x-rays are not safe during pregnancy, and this is not true. Dental x-rays produce a very low dose of radiation—an amount about equivalent to standing outdoors in the sunlight—making them safe. Without performing x-rays, your dentist may not be able to detect cavities in your mouth, and untreated cavities can lead to more extensive oral health issues.
6 Common Oral Health Problems During Pregnancy
As your body changes, so does your dental health. Experiencing any of the following common dental problems can show the importance of maintaining your oral health during pregnancy.
Having a loose tooth during pregnancy can sound scary. The increased progesterone and estrogen levels in your body can actually make the bones that support your teeth weaken.
Any loose teeth that aren’t associated with other issues, like periodontitis, will only remain that way temporarily and shouldn’t lead to tooth loss. However, paired with other dental issues like gum disease, a loose tooth can become a much bigger problem and potentially lead to losing the tooth.
It’s no secret that the relationship between pregnancy and periodontal disease runs deep. Many pregnant women can suffer from some form of this disease—whether it’s gingivitis, an early form of periodontal disease, or periodontitis, which is a later and more severe form.
Bacteria normally cause low levels of inflammation that can skyrocket with hormonal changes, resulting in sensitive and inflamed gums, or gingivitis. If this goes untreated, it could turn into severe gum disease and potentially lead to pregnancy complications like preterm birth and low birth weight.
Fortunately, with great dental care, early forms of gum disease can be easily reverted. However, more advanced stages of gum disease would need to be treated by a dentist.
Oral pregnancy tumors, or pyogenic granuloma, are the result of higher progesterone levels, along with bacteria and irritants already in the mouth. These tumors are not a form of cancer; instead, they are bumps found on the gums between teeth that are mostly small and painless, though they can bleed fairly easily.
These tumors can usually be managed by observation. They also tend to resolve after delivery; however, if these tumors bleed excessively or do not resolve on their own, they may need to be surgically removed.
The risk of tooth decay can increase during pregnancy due to morning sickness. Nausea and vomiting can increase the acidity in your mouth, which can lead to tooth erosion. The gastric acid that comes up with morning sickness is extremely acidic, which can weaken the tooth’s enamel and allow bacteria to thrive.
To help protect your teeth, brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush immediately after you vomit and rinse your mouth out with water or mouthwash. You may also want to avoid acidic foods and drinks, such as citrus fruits and juices, to decrease your chances of tooth decay.
One of the most common oral changes during pregnancy is increased tooth sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, as well as sweet foods. This is due to the increased blood flow in your gums, making them more sensitive to temperature changes.
Temporomandibular Joint Disease (TMJ)
Pregnancy can also cause changes in your jawbone and teeth. This can lead to problems such as TMJ disorder, a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the jaw joint. Symptoms of TMJ include clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw, pain when you chew or open your mouth, and difficulty opening your mouth wide. If you have any of these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor to rule out other possible causes.
If you experience any other changes to your oral health during pregnancy, be sure to let your dentist know. They can help you manage any issues and ensure that your mouth stays healthy throughout your pregnancy.
Preventing Dental Problems During Pregnancy
With so many changes happening in your body, your oral health care during pregnancy may look a little bit different. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep your mouth healthy during this exciting time, including:
- Brushing and Flossing Regularly: Good oral hygiene is essential for preventing problems like gum disease. Be sure to brush at least twice a day and floss once a day.
- Rinsing with Mouthwash: Rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash during your daily dental care routine will help keep bacteria away.
- Using a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush: Your gums are more delicate during pregnancy, so it’s important to use a toothbrush with soft bristles that won’t further irritate the gumline.
- Eating a Healthy Diet: A healthy diet is important for your overall health, including your oral health. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It’s also important to increase your calcium intake with foods like spinach, broccoli, kale, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Try to avoid sugary snacks and drinks, which can contribute to tooth decay.
- Drinking Plenty of Water: Drinking water helps keep your mouth moist and rinse away food particles that cause tooth decay or gum disease.
- Visiting the Dentist Regularly: It’s important to see your dentist at least every six months for a routine cleaning and exam. If you have any concerns about your oral health, be sure to discuss them with your dentist.
Treating Dental Problems During Pregnancy
Many dental problems during pregnancy can be treated and prevented with the right oral care and treatments.
Regarding morning sickness, be sure to brush your teeth regularly with a fluoride toothpaste and rinse your mouth out with water after vomiting. This can help eliminate bacteria and acid present in the mouth from puking.
If you develop gum disease during pregnancy, it is important to treat it promptly to prevent further complications. Be sure to brush and floss your teeth regularly, and see your dentist for a professional cleaning. If necessary, your dentist may prescribe a special mouthwash or antibiotic to help control the infection.
Pregnancy can also cause cavities due to increased sugar cravings, presence of acid reflux, few options to neutralize stomach acid reflux, and decreased ability to brush and floss regularly. If you develop cavities, your dentist will likely recommend a dental filling or crown to restore the tooth.
By following these tips for good oral health during pregnancy, you can help keep your mouth healthy and reduce your risk of developing dental problems!