Why is dental health important during pregnancy?

pregnant women are jeopardising their oral health

Pregnancy is almost always a life-changing experience – most importantly for you, the mother. Among the immediate changes you will notice are those taking place in your body, including your mouth. In particular, the hormonal changes that are set in train by pregnancy often affect the gums and teeth.

One common pregnancy-related oral change is a reversible and temporary condition known as pregnancy gingivitis, which is essentially inflammation of the gums. This condition is characterised by redness of the gums, as well as swelling, sensitivity, and bleeding from brushing and flossing. The severity and type of symptoms that you may experience with any kind of gingivitis will depend on your pre-existing dental health and level of oral hygiene. Therefore, if you are planning to become pregnant, it’s important to stabilise any gum or tooth infections early, and then to maintain good dental health throughout your pregnancy, as these precautions can significantly reduce the risk of gingival inflammation. For all adults, and especially expectant mothers, we recommend seeing your dental hygienist on a regular recall system.

If poor control of bacteria in a pregnant woman’s body leads to particularly severe gum disease, this can pose a risk to the unborn child in the form of premature labour and low birth weight. Less seriously, hormonal changes combined with normal levels of bacteria may produce harmless but unsightly “pregnancy tumours” (pyogenic granulomas) on your gums. These tumours, which may appear as lumpy, red swellings between your teeth, normally resolve after birth and with regularly maintained oral hygiene practices.

Many women experience morning sickness during pregnancy, and this can also affect their dental health. If prolonged, the acid reflux (or regurgitation of sour fluid into your mouth) can weaken or break down the outer enamel surface of the teeth. Many women have the urge to brush their teeth after a bout of acid reflux, but it is recommended instead that you either rinse with water, chew sugar-free gum or, if possible, snack on dairy foods such as milk or cheese which have acid-neutralising benefits. Try to avoid brushing for at least 30 minutes after any regurgitation episode, and if you are still feeling the need to freshen your mouth, try using your finger to gently smear fluoridated toothpaste over the surfaces of your teeth (no scrubbing!).

In summary, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it is important to see your general dentist or dental hygienist regularly. Often, expectant mothers avoid the dentist due to an unfounded fear that dental treatment is unsafe during pregnancy. To help ease your mind and ensure that your dental hygiene and oral health are optimal, your dental professional will be able to answer any questions you have about necessary and safe procedures during pregnancy.

Jacinta Aquilano
BOH (La Trobe)
Dental Hygienist and Therapist