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The Importance of Dental Care during Pregnancy

As predicted, the Year of the Dragon is turning out to be a boom year for births. Excited moms-to-be have hundreds of things to do to prepare for their “dragon baby,” including shopping for apparel, a crib, stroller and other necessities. Yet, it is even more important for her to take care of herself, especially the often-neglected aspect of dental care.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause small blood vessels to dilate resulting in an increase of blood supply in the gums, potentially leading to infection. Accumulation of bacteria colonies called plaque and tartar around the teeth will exacerbate this effect, causing inflammation called pregnancy gingivitis. In severe cases, the swelling and gum bleeding is so prominent that it is referred to as a “pregnancy tumor.” Although it is not a real tumor, extensive gum treatment is required.

According to a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, proper gum treatment significantly reduces the risk of having a pre-term birth or an infant with low birth weight. Other research has discovered a correlation between mothers with severe dental cavities and early cavities in babies after their teeth come in. Needless to say, prevention is the key.

Common reasons many pregnant women avoid dental care is the possibility of exposure to diagnostic radiation and anesthesia during treatment. In general, unnecessary radiation, chemicals and medication should be avoided during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Fortunately, mild to moderate gum disease can be diagnosed by visual exam and pocket probing. Simple treatment such as gentle scaling and improving oral hygiene can be very helpful to either clear or at least control the extent of any gum inflammation.

It is vital to prevent bacteria buildup around teeth and gum pockets. Otherwise, bacteria use the infected pockets as a pathway to enter the blood capillaries and travel to other parts of the body, including the fetus. Thorough teeth brushing two to three times a day, in addition to daily flossing, is essential. The use of non-alcohol-based, anti-bacterial mouthwash can also be beneficial. However, it is advisable to seek the advice of a dental professional in order to avoid any mouthwash products with alcohol or other harmful chemicals.

During pregnancy, the health of the soon-to-be mom directly affects the health of the baby, so it is critical that this understanding extends to oral hygiene. The ultimate goal is for a healthy and happy mom to enjoy the arrival of her healthy and happy baby.

References:

López NJ, Smith PC, Gutierrez J. “Periodontal Therapy May Reduce the Risk of Preterm Low Birth Weight in Women with Periodontal Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Periodontology. Aug 2002; 73:8.

Siqueira FM, et al. “Intrauterine Growth Restriction, Low Birth Weight, and Preterm Birth: Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes and Their Association with Maternal Periodontitis.” Journal of Periodontology. Dec 2007; 78:12.