Among the many changes that women experience in their bodies when they become pregnant, changes to their oral health may be among the most surprising and perplexing. Pregnancy can put women at higher risk of certain oral conditions, such as gingivitis and cavities, so it’s good to know what signs to look out for and how to prevent problems.
There’s an old saying that “You’ll lose a tooth for every baby.” It was once believed that pregnancy caused tooth decay so severe that a woman should expect at least one of her teeth to decay beyond repair or fall out each time she got pregnant. Thankfully, with our modern understanding of dental health and dental technologies, this ominous adage is now far from true.
One of the most common signs of pregnancy-related oral changes is bleeding gums. Women may notice blood when they brush or floss. In addition, the gums may be swollen and tender. This inflammation is caused by hormonal changes and is known as pregnancy gingivitis. While pregnancy gingivitis is fairly common, it can progress into irreversible periodontitis (gum disease) if good oral health habits aren’t followed. This is particularly serious because studies have linked periodontitis to complications such as low birth weight, premature birth, and preeclampsia.
Pregnant women are also more prone to cavities and tooth decay. Scientific studies have found that this is due to hormonal changes that cause saliva to become more acidic. This acidity makes teeth more vulnerable to decay, which is caused by the acid excreted by bacteria. While there isn’t a way to prevent this chemical change, pregnant women can reduce their risk of problems by avoiding sugary foods and being especially vigilant about keeping their teeth clean through regular brushing and flossing.
With all of these pregnancy-related changes, it is particularly important that your dentist knows you’re pregnant as soon as possible. Even if you just suspect you’re pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, you should tell your dentist as soon as possible, especially if you’re already at risk for periodontitis. Your dentist will offer you advice on your oral care during pregnancy and may choose to delay certain planned treatments or procedures until after your baby has arrived.