By Erika L. Rowe, DMD
Every mother wants the very best for her unborn child. We read endless books, take prenatal vitamins and go to our regular obstetric visits. But did you know that regular dental care during pregnancy directly impacts the health of your new baby?
Expectant moms should continue with regular cleanings throughout pregnancy. Digital x-rays with proper shielding, dental anesthetics and most antibiotics used today are safe during pregnancy. If you have a dental emergency, seek treatment immediately. Your OB can provide you with dental clearance if your dentist is hesitant to provide emergency care while you are pregnant.
Here are some frequently asked questions about dental health during pregnancy.
Why does pregnancy affect dental health?
• Nausea and low blood sugar can make frequent snacking common. Commonly promoted foods such as crackers may be high in starches that promote decay.
• Nausea makes it difficult to have anything in your mouth without feeling the urge to vomit. This makes brushing or flossing more difficult.
• Vomiting during pregnancy can lead to a sudden and large increase in tooth decay in some women if it is happening several times a day and if handled incorrectly. When vomiting or reflux occurs, stomach acid enters the mouth. The acid irritates gum tissue and softens the outer tooth enamel. If this happens repeatedly, it will thin the enamel.
What can I do to keep my mouth healthy?
• Use the smallest toothbrush head to reduce gagging.
• Use an electric toothbrush for more effective brushing.
• Use a pre-loaded floss holder to reduce gagging.
• Add an antibacterial rinse to your routine to help keep bacteria controlled.
• Never brush teeth immediately after a vomiting or reflux episode. Rinse with a solution of water and baking soda or use a liquid antacid to restore the pH in your mouth. If you don’t let the pH normalize before you brush after vomiting you are actually brushing away tooth mineral particles that otherwise would have been restored to the surface of your enamel. Eating a small piece of cheese also neutralizes acids in the mouth and boosts calcium levels, which helps to protect the teeth.
• Chew a Xylitol-containing sugar-free gum to increase saliva, help reduce bacteria, decrease plaque and help re-mineralize teeth.
• If acid exposure happens on a daily basis, tell your dentist. You may need a prescription fluoride mouth rinse or gel to prevent dental erosion.
What’s the big deal? It’s only nine months!
If your mouth doesn’t stay clean during pregnancy, you can develop pregnancy gingivitis. This quickly can lead to periodontal disease and irreversible bone loss.This happens because gum and periodontal disease are bacterial infections.
Like infections in other areas of the body, periodontal disease can cause preterm labor and delivery. Disease-causing bacteria produce toxins that enter the bloodstream, causing the body to produce chemicals to fight off the disease process. These chemicals are the same ones that can induce contractions and lead to preterm labor and a low birth weight baby. Your dental insurance may even provide an extra cleaning during pregnancy to help prevent such complications.
When you pick up your toothbrush and floss, it’s not just to keep your smile bright; you are helping to give your little one the healthiest and brightest future possible!
Erika L. Rowe, DMD, is a dentist and part-time stay-at-home mom. She is the mother of Kole (2) and is expecting her second child in early 2012. She and her husband, Kurt N. Rowe, DMD, own a practice in North Central Phoenix called Rowe and Warren Family Dentistry.