If you’re pregnant, you know that your lifestyle choices can affect your baby’s health. Your OB/GYN has undoubtedly recommended that you take prenatal vitamins, limit caffeine and avoid alcohol. But has your doctor also told you that maintaining good oral hygiene is important for your baby’s health?
Poor dental health in pregnant women has been linked to preeclampsia, preterm deliveries, low birth weight babies, and babies with increased risk of tooth decay. Although far too often overlooked, oral healthcare is an important part of prenatal care.
How Does Your Oral Health Affect Your Pregnancy?
Although the reason for the link is not well understood, studies have repeatedly shown links between periodontal (gum) disease in pregnant women, on the one hand, and preterm deliveries and low birth weight infants, on the other hand. In fact, one study suggested that approximately 18% of premature, low birth weight infants are born prematurely as a result of periodontal disease in their mothers. In turn, premature birth and low birth weight are associated with higher infant mortality risk and increased risk to the infant of certain long-term health issues.
Studies also suggest that periodontal disease may increase a pregnant woman’s chances of developing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy-related blood pressure disorder that can lead to preterm birth, stillbirth, and stroke. One study found that pregnant women with preeclampsia were 3.5 times more likely to have periodontal disease than non-preeclamptic women.
The links between periodontal disease and preterm deliveries, low birth weight infants and preeclampsia are especially troublesome given that pregnancy is associated with an increased likelihood of, and increased severity of, periodontal disease. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect your gums, potentially leading to a condition called pregnancy gingivitis (inflammation and bleeding of the gums during pregnancy). According to the CDC, about 60 to 75% of pregnant women suffer from gingivitis (which is early stage periodontal disease).
Does Your Dental Health During Pregnancy Affect Your Baby’s Teeth?
In short, yes! The presence of untreated cavities in a mother’s mouth can increase her newborn’s risk of getting tooth decay as a baby or young child.
Tooth decay is an infectious, transmissible disease that results, in part, from a build-up of cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria can be spread from person to person, including from mother to newborn child, through saliva.
One of the best-known types of cariogenic bacteria is Mutans streptococci (MS). MS levels inside a person’s mouth are used as an indicator of the person’s caries risk level: more MS inside a person’s mouth translates to a higher risk of getting cavities.
MS can begin building up in an infant’s mouth right from birth – even before the infant has any teeth. The higher the levels of MS inside the mother’s mouth, the greater the likelihood that she will spread the bacteria to her infant and MS will build up in the infant’s mouth. If MS bacteria colonizes the infant’s mouth, the infant is more likely to suffer from tooth decay once his or her teeth come in.
Tips for Good Dental Health During Pregnancy
Periodontal disease and MS build-up are often avoidable. Follow the tips below for good dental health during pregnancy to reduce your risk of periodontal disease and tooth decay, so that both you and your baby can enjoy better health!
- Brush twice a day and floss daily. Regular brushing and flossing are critical for removing food particles and cariogenic bacteria from your teeth. If a strong pregnancy-related gag reflex is making it difficult for you to brush your teeth, try switching to a different flavor of toothpaste or distracting yourself while brushing (by listening to music or to someone talking, for example).
- Wait an hour before brushing your teeth after vomiting. Vomiting coats your teeth in stomach acids, which, like all acids, can damage your teeth by causing demineralization. (As if morning sickness wasn’t bad enough on its own!) To help minimize this damage, try rinsing your mouth with one cup of water mixed with one teaspoon of baking soda after vomiting to help neutralize the acid, and wait at least one hour before brushing your teeth.
- Minimize your intake of simple carbohydrates. When you consume sugary foods or simple starches that break down into sugars inside your mouth (such as those in white bread or potato chips), cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria inside your mouth feed on those sugars and use them to grow and multiply. These bacteria can cause tooth decay and periodontal disease. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheese, meat, fish, and whole grains are better options.
- Chew sugarless gum after meals. Chewing sugarless gum has been shown to help prevent tooth decay. Look for sugar-free gum with the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which has been shown to meet the American Dental Association’s criteria for safety and efficacy.
- Visit your dentist regularly. Do not skip your regular dental appointments! Your dentist can help identify and treat periodontal disease and tooth decay before they worsen. Regular dental check-ups are an important component of prenatal care.
In addition, it’s a good idea to start looking for a dental home for your baby even before he or she arrives. As described below, you should bring your baby in for a first pediatric dental check-up sooner than you might think!
Scheduling Your Baby’s First Pediatric Dental Check-Up
Early childhood caries (tooth decay in children under six) is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in children. As soon as your child’s first tooth emerges, your child can get cavities. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend scheduling your baby’s first dental checkup as soon as the first tooth emerges or by your baby’s first birthday, whichever is earlier. Research suggests that, for each year past a child’s first birthday parents delay booking that first dental visit, the child’s odds of having tooth decay more than doubles.
At your baby’s first dental visit, his or her pediatric dentist will examine your baby’s mouth to make sure there are no dental issues and will teach you how to properly care for your baby’s teeth and gums. Catching any issues and learning how to properly care for your baby’s teeth early can help your child avoid painful decay and disease.
Choosing a board-certified pediatric dentist for your baby ensures that your child will receive care from a dental specialist who has been specially trained to work with children. Unlike family dentists and other general dentists, pediatric dentists are required to complete a pediatric dental residency program after dental school. During residency, pediatric dentists receive training in areas such as child psychology, child-related pharmacology, advanced diagnostic and surgical procedures, dental trauma, special needs dental care, and child sedation dentistry. (Check out our article on the differences between pediatric dentists and family dentists to learn more.)
Contact Us to Schedule an Appointment at Hurst Pediatric Dentistry
Hurst Pediatric Dentistry’s Dr. Lin is a board-certified pediatric dentist who serves babies and children in Hurst, Bedford, Euless, Keller, Colleyville, North Richland Hills, Southlake, Fort Worth, Arlington, Watauga and the surrounding area. Once your baby’s first tooth comes in (or by your baby’s first birthday, if earlier), contact us at (817) 510-6400 to schedule your baby’s first dental check-up.
This article is intended to provide general information about oral health topics. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition or as a substitute for the advice of a healthcare professional who is fully aware of and familiar with the specifics of your case. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with regard to any questions you may have relating to a medical condition or treatment.