How to look after your mouth when pregnant
As evident from the literature, there is a direct link between pregnancy and increases in the incidence of both tooth decay and gum disease. And it’s not just the mom who takes the hit. Research suggests that the developing baby might also be at risk if mom’s oral health slips during pregnancy.
3 common oral health challenges during pregnancy
Let’s start by highlighting a few ways in which pregnancy can impact the oral health of the mother.
1. Increased risk of tooth decay caused by pregnancy-related nutrient deficiencies
A woman’s body is hardwired to address her baby’s nutritional needs first.
This means that unless the mom is ultra nutritionally-conscientious during her entire pregnancy, since her body will give to the baby first, the mom may progressively develop a deficiency in the nutrients needed for her to maintain optimal oral health.
Common signs of this are increased instances of cavities during and after pregnancy.
2. Increased gum disease risk for mom
If the appropriate bugs are already colonizing the pregnant mom’s gum line, the above-mentioned nutritional deficits combined with hormonal shifts from pregnancy can set the stage for these bugs to ramp up their attack on the mom’s gum health.
It is extremely common for gum pocket depths to increase (get worse) during pregnancy.
3. Increased risk of long-term enamel damage from morning sickness
Repeated exposure to the strong acids from vomiting really can cause a lot of damage to the long-term health of the mom’s teeth. The Hydrolochloric acid coming up from the stomach can damage the hard outer enamel covering the teeth and cause pitting and sensitivity of the teeth.
How common is gum disease during pregnancy?
It really depends who you ask.
According to the CDC, “Nearly 60 to 75% of pregnant women have gingivitis”. While gingivitis (bleeding gums) is an early stage of gum disease, as you’ll see below, the systemic inflammatory cascade caused by gum disease creates a very real threat to the health and optimal development of the baby.
(Incidentally, this is precisely why we focus so much on bleeding gums. Many signs of early gum disease, like red or swollen gums, are kind of subjective. However, it’s pretty easy to identify whether or not your gums bleed when you’re gently, yet thoroughly flossing. Your gums either bleed or they don’t. If they do, that’s gingivitis.)
Back to the prevalence of gum disease.
One research study states, “Periodontal disease is a Gram-negative anaerobic infection of the mouth that affects up to 90% of the population and has been demonstrated to be higher in pregnant women.“
And while the risks to the mother are enough to warrant preventive action, research clearly shows that there can be a negative impact on the unborn child, too. (Don’t worry, we do share solutions soon!)
Increased risk for child if mom has gum disease
Unaddressed gum disease can cause systemic inflammation.
Research clearly shows a very real increased risk for the baby if the mother has active gum (periodontal) disease.
According to researchers, maternal periodontal disease was associated with a seven-fold increased risk of delivering a preterm, low birth weight infant. This study goes on to state, “…about 18% of PLBW [preterm, low birth weight] cases might be attributable to periodontal disease.”
The baby’s development is optimized when the child stays in utero through 40 weeks. If we can lower the risk of having the baby preterm by taking better care of our oral health, then we think this is a worthwhile investment of our time.
So what can we do to help lower our risk of tooth decay and gum disease during pregnancy?
Let’s pivot to share several solutions to help you to both maintain your own optimal oral health as well as to optimize the health of your developing baby.
First, let’s focus specifically on ‘in-the-mouth’ strategies. After that, we’ll dive into some ‘whole-body’ solutions for supporting oral health.
Avoid major dental work during pregnancy and breastfeeding
We’d all agree that it’s best to avoid increasing any toxic ‘body burden’ for anyone, especially a developing child. This is particularly important if you’re considering having mercury amalgam fillings removed.
Learn to brush your teeth to reduce the risk of gum disease before you become pregnant.
Again, several factors related to pregnancy can increase the chance of gum disease progressing in the mom’s mouth.
Before you even get pregnant, it’s wise to get into the habit of using a brushing technique that’s clinically proven to reduce gum disease. This will help you to avoid the complications that can arise from developing full-blown gum disease.
Here’s a free resource that shows a simple, time-tested technique for how to brush your teeth to reduce gum disease
Floss at least every other day.
According to medical research, regular conscious flossing can help lower the risk of systemic inflammation.