Common Dental Issues During Pregnancy
Many changes happen to a woman’s mouth over the course of her lifetime, particularly when there is a change in hormones. Onset of menstruation, pregnancy, menopause can all result in changes to our oral health and we need to be aware of these changes and know how to address them.
Below is a list of common dental issues that many pregnant women experience.
The change in hormone levels and the increased drain on our bodily fluids can result in dry mouth for many pregnant women. Some wonder if it’s even a sign of pregnancy. It may seem more of a nuisance than an actual medical/dental issue. However many pregnant women don’t realize that saliva contains natural bacteria-fighting enzymes that help protect teeth from acid attacks from the foods that we eat. This helps to protect against the onset of conditions such gingivitis (gum disease) and periodontal disease (advanced gum disease).
Dry mouth is particularly noticeable in the morning. This is because your mouth produces very little saliva during the night so there is more time for bacteria to grow.
Dental caries or cavities can occur in pregnant women for the same reasons as in non-pregnant women. However oral health challenges are exacerbated by hormone levels and the changes those can inflict on a woman’s mouth, as described above.
Less saliva washing away food particles and bacteria, inadequate rehydration of the mouth or, worse, the use of sugary drinks to quench thirst, insufficient oral hygiene habits on top of cravings for sweet things can all lead to an increased risk of cavities during pregnancy.
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease and usually occurs during the second trimester. The main symptoms of gingivitis are swelling, redness, tenderness and bleeding of the gums, especially while brushing and flossing. Gingivitis increases in severity through the eighth month.
It is estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of all pregnant women have gingivitis. It is caused by lower levels of saliva, as well as the exaggerated response to plaque as a result of wonky hormone levels.
Periodontitis or periodontal disease is an advanced form of gingivitis and has more severe overall consequences for pregnant moms and their developing baby. Periodontal disease can happen if gingivitis is left untreated. As plaque and bacteria start to build up, the underlying supporting bone and tissues can loosen. This can result in loosened teeth, periodontal abscesses or the need for root canal treatment if the infection has spread to the roots of the teeth.
“One recent study suggests that women who have periodontal disease are at a 7.5 times higher risk for delivering preterm low birth weight babies than women who do not have periodontal disease” (Illinois Department of Public Health) while “a randomized controlled trial of 870 women with pregnancy-associated gingivitis found that treatment … and maintenance significantly reduced the preterm birth or LBW rate” (Canadian Family Physician).
It is probably because of the above that the saying “lose a tooth for every child” came to be, but it doesn’t have to happen anymore.
Losing teeth during pregnancy was also assumed to be associated with the developing baby requiring calcium and drawing that need out of the mother’s teeth. Babies actually receive calcium from the mother’s dietary intake and, if there is insufficient intake of calcium, then the baby will draw it from the mother’s bones. So it is extremely important that pregnant mothers maintain adequate calcium levels in their diet.
With all the bacteria resulting from lower levels of saliva and increased intake of sweet foods and vomiting, many pregnant women also experience bad breath.
Pregnancy tumors are large bumps that form on gums as a reaction to an irritant. These usually happen in between teeth. “Often times, this area is enlarged, dark red or bluish in color, and is difficult to keep clean. Generally, the tissue will decrease in size after the birth of the baby, but sometimes the tissue may need to be removed by a dentist” (Illinois Department of Health).
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Teeth and Pregnancy. Better Health Channel. Web. Feb 16, 2012.
Protecting Oral Health Throughout your Life. American Academy of Periodontology. Web. Feb 16, 2012.
Women’s Oral Health, Illinois Department of Public Health Division of Oral Health. Web. Feb 16, 2012.
Pregnancy. American Dental Association. Web. Feb 16, 2012.
“Dental Care during Pregnancy” by Tanya Wrzosek and Adrienne Einarson, RN. Canadian Family Physician – Journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Web. Feb 16, 2012.