Keep smiling: oral health is vital during pregnancy
As you already know, pregnancy brings with it significant bodily changes. However, what you may not be aware of is that although hormonal changes can have a significant impact on dental health it is important for most pregnant women to wait until the end of the first trimester before visiting the dentist.
Why you should wait until 12 weeks
During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy the baby’s brain, heart and other organs are still developing and are especially susceptible to damage caused by radiation.
Of course, in the event that you need emergency dental work you should discuss your options with your dentist. However, elective dental work should be avoided in all but the most exceptional of circumstances.
How hormones and pregnancy effect your oral health
Alongside the possible sweet tooth and carbohydrate cravings you may have developed during pregnancy, it is also likely that you may be experiencing acid regurgitation. Ultimately, this, together with a multitude of hormonal changes, has an impact on your dental health and hygiene.
As your baby develops during the first trimester, the placenta produces surges of oestrogen and progesterone; these hormones can cause inflammation of the gingiva (gums), in effect causing your teeth to become looser. Gingivitis occurs in 60-75 percent of pregnant women, and around 30 percent of pregnant women will go on to develop periodontal disease, which, as well as being associated with preterm delivery, low birth weight, late miscarriage and pre-eclampsia, greatly increases the risk of tooth loss.
Furthermore, the hormonal cocktail produced by pregnancy may result in excessive formation of blood vessels in the mouth, which can reduce immune response and increase susceptibility to oral infections. In such instances, mothers-to-be may notice increased bleeding during brushing as well as a hormonally stimulated increase in saliva production called ptyalism – conversely in some rarer cases the same hormones may cause a condition called xerostomia which actually results in a dry mouth.
Pregnancy granuloma is a reaction to the build up of dental plaque that is initially felt as a painless and relatively small lump on the gums of the front teeth, although it may also be felt on the lips, tongue and palate.
The pregnancy granuloma may bleed. In some rare cases the bleeding may be so profuse that the patient requires excision or transfusion. However, for the vast majority of the 10 percent of pregnant women who develop the condition, no such complication will occur and the condition will resolves itself postpartum.
Make the most of free NHS treatment
Luckily for mothers-to-be living in the UK, the NHS provides free dental treatment. Simply use the application form FW8 so that your midwife or GP can issue you with the relevant MATB1 certificate as well as the maternity prescription exemption certificate (MatEx).
The certificate is valid from one month before the date that the application is received (so if you have paid for NHS dental treatment within the one month lead in time to your application, you can claim the costs back) up to 12 months after the expected date of birth. In the event the baby has already been born, it is valid until 12 months following the date of birth.
Home oral healthcare during pregnancy
Fortunately, there are a lot of steps you can take at home to increase your dental health.
Although your teeth may bleed during brushing it is essential that you don’t let this put you off; regular and thorough brushing can only be good for your gums and neglecting your cleaning routine is only likely to exacerbate any inflammation and bleeding.
Be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day, morning and night, for two minutes at a time using a fluoride toothpaste and, ideally, an electric toothbrush.
Furthermore, many mothers-to-be fail to properly address the build-up of plaque between their teeth; yet this can easily be done with dental floss or interdental brushes – the latter may be particularly suitable if you are suffering from pronounced bleeding and require a softer alternative to floss.
A healthy diet is another way to promote good dental hygiene during pregnancy. Drinking water regularly helps keep the mouth free of acid and also keeps saliva flowing, which further reduces tooth and gum damage caused by acid from foods etc.
Above all, steer clear of sugary and acidic foodstuffs and if you do eat or drink these, make them part of your mealtimes; consuming sugary and acidic foodstuffs between meals gives your mouth very little opportunity to self-clean.
Any foodstuff that is rich in calcium is to be encouraged. Yoghurt, cheese, milk, beans, broccoli, almonds, tofu and sardines are all good, healthy sources of calcium.
If you have any problems or concerns about your oral health during pregnancy, it is vital you contact your dentist – regardless of how many weeks you are into your pregnancy. There is no substitute for the advice of an expert and, as the healthiness of your mouth can affect your overall well-being and that of your baby, it’s a good time to make friends with your dentist.