Pregnancy and Oral Health

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

The old wives’ tale that a tooth is lost for every pregnancy is simply not true. While it is true that pregnancy may intensify some dental conditions, misconceptions continue to exist about some effects of a woman’s pregnancy on her health.

As with everyone, tooth decay results from repeated acid attacks on the teeth. A pregnant woman would only be more susceptible to tooth decay if she increased her snacking on sugar-rich foods and not maintain good oral hygiene.

Gingivitis (gum disease), however, may occur more frequently during pregnancy due to a rise in the body’s hormone levels. These increased hormones exaggerate the way gum tissues react to the irritants in plaque, the sticky layer of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. A pregnant woman may prevent gingivitis by keeping her teeth clean with thorough brushing and flossing.

Recent research suggests a link between preterm, low birth weight babies and gingivitis. Bacteria can enter the blood stream through the gums, travel to the uterus and trigger the production of chemicals called prostaglandins, which are suspected to induce premature labor.

Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy is important for healthy gums. Also, since the baby’s teeth begin to develop between the third and sixth month of pregnancy, it is important that the woman receive sufficient nutrients, especially vitamin A,C and D; protein; calcium; and phosphorous.

Calcium is not lost from the mother’s teeth during pregnancy, as some have mistakenly believed. The developing baby’s need for 400 milligrams of calcium per day is supplied by the mother’s diet. An adequate intake of dairy products and green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale and spinach, plus the vitamin supplements often recommended by obstetricians will ensure that a pregnant woman will get all the calcium that she needs during her pregnancy. If calcium in the mother’s diet is inadequate, this mineral will be taken from the mother’s bones.

A woman should continue regular dental visits for exams and hygiene throughout her pregnancy, but the optimal time for elective treatment is from the fourth through the sixth month of pregnancy.

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