Lately, we have noticed a number of female patients talk about changes in their oral health during their pregnancy and/or since they gave birth. A couple of these changes could be never having a cavity before and now have multiple to take care of, or they have noticed that their gums are sore or swollen.

There is an old wives’ tale that warns women to expect a lost tooth for every pregnancy. It is a myth that calcium is lost from a mother’s tooth during pregnancy.  The truth is if mom’s calcium intake is inadequate, then the mother’s bones, not her teeth, will provide the calcium her growing baby needs. However, you may experience some changes in your oral health.

Pregnancy can lead to dental problems for some women, including gum disease and increased risk of tooth decay. During pregnancy, your increased hormones can affect your body’s response to plaque (the layer of GERMS on your teeth). The gum problems that occur during pregnancy are not due to increased plaque, but rather a result of increased hormone levels.

Common causes of dental health problems during pregnancy can include:

  • Gum disease
  • Vomiting
  • Cravings for sugary foods
  • Retching while brushing teeth

While unfortunately we cannot predict or avoid getting sick during pregnancy, there are some suggestions to help with your oral health when become sick during your pregnancy:

  • As bad as it sounds, don’t brush your teeth immediately after vomiting. While the teeth are covered in stomach acids, the vigorous action of the toothbrush may scratch the tooth enamel.
  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly with tap water
  • Follow up with a fluoridated mouthwash
  • If you don’t have a fluoridated mouthwash, put a dab of fluoridated toothpaste on your finger and smear it over your teeth. Rinse thoroughly with water.
  • Brush your teeth at least an hour after vomiting.

Some pregnant women find that brushing their teeth, particularly the molars, provokes retching. An easy solution to this would seem to be skipping brushing altogether. While this may sound very appealing to you, when you don’t brush regularly you risk tooth decay and gum disease and could potentially lead to premature birth.

Here are a few suggestions so you can continue to brush:

  • Use a brush with a small head, such as a brush made for toddlers.
  • Take your time. Slow down your brushing action.
  • It may help to close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing
  • Try other distractions, such as listening to music
  • If the taste of toothpaste seems to provoke your gag reflex, switch to another brand. Alternatively, brush your teeth with water and follow up with fluoridated mouthwash. Go back to brushing with fluoridated toothpaste as soon as you can.

Again, not brushing regularly during your pregnancy can result in tooth decay and gum disease leading to premature birth. Research has found a link between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth with low birth weight. Estimates suggest that up to 18 out of every 100 premature births may be triggered by periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic infection of the gums. Appropriate dental treatment for the expectant mother may reduce the risk of premature birth. Excessive bacteria can enter the bloodstream through your gums. If this happens, the bacteria can travel to the uterus triggering the production chemicals called prostaglandins which are suspected to induce premature labor.

These findings are a huge reason why we push the importance of taking care of your oral health during every pregnancy. It is less likely that you will have dental problems during pregnancy if you already have good oral hygiene habits and maintain those good habits during your pregnancy. Suggestions of habits to pick up if you are planning on getting pregnant or if you know that you are in need of improving your oral health are the basic instructions you will get from any dentist:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss between your teeth
  • Visit your dentist or oral hygienist regularly.

Your oral health is important even after baby has arrived. Make sure to see a dentist after you give birth as well. While most types of gum problems caused by pregnancy hormones resolve after birth, a small number of women may have developed a deeper level of gum disease that will need treatment to resolve.