When it comes to pregnancy, many women know that it is important to eat healthy (most of the time…), exercise, and take your prenatal vitamins. But far fewer realize how important it is to take care of one more important thing: your teeth. In fact, a mother’s dental health can directly affect that of her developing baby.
Interestingly, disorders of the mouth known as oral health disorders (this includes issues like cavities and gum disease) can have a far reaching effect on a person’s overall health. People with oral health disorders have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and lung infections.
A survey done recently showed that 35 percent of Americans had not seen a dentist in the previous year, and that 56 percent of pregnant women had not visited a dentist during their pregnancy. This means a large percentage of moms-to-be are missing important chances to be screened for dental disease.
Pregnancy itself can cause many changes related to oral health, and about 40 percent of pregnant women have some form of dental disease. For example, gums usually bleed more easily in pregnancy and cavities may be more common as acid levels increase in the mouth. Teeth may become more mobile as the ligaments supporting them become looser. If a women has morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum, her teeth enamel may erode because of the exposure to stomach acid.
Multiple studies have shown an association between dental disease and higher preterm birth rates. The thought behind this is that increased inflammation in the mouth and higher bacterial exposure may cause labor to start prematurely. However, treating the dental disease has yet to show an improvement in this increased preterm birth rate, so more studies are needed in this area.
One reason so few pregnant women visit the dentist while pregnant may be the misconception that dental exams and treatments may be harmful to the unborn baby. Even some dentists may have this misconception and make pregnant women feel like they should delay routine treatments until after they deliver. However, it’s important to know that almost all routine screenings and treatments are perfectly safe in pregnancy. This includes oral x-rays as well as procedures such as tooth fillings and root canals. If you or your dentist are unsure, ask them to contact your OB/GYN who can give the green light.
Another important reason to get good dental care in pregnancy is that the bacteria in a mother’s mouth that has caused her cavities can be passed to her baby by practices such as sharing spoons and cleaning pacifiers with her mouth. Therefore, treating cavities before giving birth and practicing good dental hygiene can help decrease the chance that her baby will eventually go on to develop dental disease.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, December 2018
- The majority of pregnant women don’t see a dentist during their pregnancies.
- About 40 percent of pregnant women have some form of dental disease.
- Almost all routine dental screenings and treatments are perfectly safe in pregnancy.