Oral health doesn’t always top the list of concerns that expectant mothers may have, but it certainly should. Proper dental health and control of oral disease can safeguard a mother’s health before and during pregnancy and reduces the transmission of bacteria from women to their children. According to numerous studies by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, many women do not seek, nor are instructed to seek, proper oral healthcare as part of their routine prenatal care.
“Caring for a pregnant mother’s teeth and gums should start before she becomes pregnant,” said Doron Kochman, DDS and Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry in the Department of Clinical Dentistry, at the University of Rochester Strong Memorial Hospital, and Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, NY. “Ideally, women who are planning to get pregnant should visit their dentists and have any necessary work done before the pregnancy. Mothers should continue to visit their dentists for routine prevention visits during their pregnancies.”
Due to the natural hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, gums are more susceptible to swelling and inflammation. Because of this, bacteria can accumulate causing gum disease and further medical complications for both mother and baby. “We now know that the bacteria responsible for gum disease can also cause problems in places other than the mother’s mouth,” said Kochman. Periodontal disease increases the risk that bacteria will enter the bloodstream, causing potential infections in either mother or baby.
Studies have shown a link between periodontal disease in mothers and an increased chance of delivering premature or low birth weight babies. Because many pregnant women routinely experience swollen and bleeding gums after they brush, they may not recognize a true problem if it exists. Regular check-ups before and during pregnancy are highly recommended.
In addition to prematurity and low birth weight, other problems can result from oral health issues. Studies have suggested that periodontal disease can increase the risk for preeclampsia, a life-threatening disorder caused by high blood pressure which usually occurs mid-to-late pregnancy.
People with diabetes are also more likely to have periodontal disease. Diabetic mothers need to be vigilant about their blood glucose levels to protect their unborn children from fetal obesity, high blood insulin levels and blood disorders, among other conditions.
Furthermore, there is growing evidence that if a mother’s oral hygiene is less than optimal, her baby’s oral health can suffer. “An expectant mother’s diet and oral hygiene can affect her baby's teeth,” said Kochman. “The baby’s teeth start developing in the 5th or 6th week after conception. A mother's balanced diet during pregnancy provides the calcium, phosphorous, other minerals and vitamins needed for the baby’s teeth to form properly.”
Most dentists recommend the following tips for expectant moms:
• Brush at least twice a day to remove plaque buildup
• Floss regularly
• Avoid sugary snacks
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet
• Get regular dental exams (speak to your dentist to see what is right for you)