Practicing good oral hygiene is even more important when pregnant
South of the chin, it’s pretty obvious where a woman plumps up during pregnancy. Less noticeably, her gums become swollen, too. Not only are puffy gums painful, but they also pose a risk to the unborn baby.
During pregnancy, blood vessels expand throughout the body, including the gums, says Dr. Dana Keiles, who practices dentistry in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Enlarged vessels make the gums tender and more likely to bleed.
On top of that, about 50 percent of women experience pregnancy gingivitis, a gum disease caused by elevated hormone levels, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. The hormones react with plaque at the gum line, causing inflammation. Studies show that women with gum disease are more likely to give birth prematurely or bear full-term babies with low birth weights, which puts the infants at risk of developing serious health problems such as cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness. In addition, a study published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Periodontology suggested that women with gum disease are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
The transfer of bacteria from a mother’s mouth to her unborn child and the rest of her body is probably to blame for these systemic health problems; however, other factors such as stress may come into play as well, says Dr. Jennifer Holtzman, assistant professor of clinical dentistry, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
In the general population, gum disease has been linked to heart disease and stroke.
“The best way to prevent and control gum disease is to make sure you clean the plaque off your teeth,” Holtzman says, adding that there are over-the-counter “disclosing agents” people can buy to dye and reveal any bacteria they missed while brushing and flossing.
Keiles recommends that women undergo a thorough dental exam if they are planning to get pregnant and that they have their teeth professionally cleaned every three months once they’re expecting.
She also recommends that pregnant women who suffer morning sickness or nausea rinse their mouths out if they vomit because stomach acid can damage tooth enamel.
“There’s a saying, ‘Have a baby, lose a tooth.’ It’s an old wives’ tale,” she says, “but there are a lot of hormonal things going on during pregnancy that can cause serious problems, so it’s important to practice good oral hygiene.”
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