Looking after your teeth is essential at all times but it is of particular importance when you’re pregnant. Many people blame pregnancy for the deterioration of their gum health, the development of cavities and even the loss of teeth and this may be true, indirectly. It is likely that the increase in dental health problems during and after pregnancy are probably due to a change in oral health habits and diet during pregnancy and therefore is entirely preventable.
Read on to find out how you can prevent your own dental problems from developing as a result of pregnancy.
Gums are more easily irritated and inflamed during pregnancy as a result of those pesky pregnancy hormones. Inflamed gums release ‘markers’ into the bloodstream called prostaglandins that can increase the risk of premature labour and possibly miscarriage (although there is less evidence related to the latter at present).
As a result of this it is extra important to prevent that sticky plaque from building up on your teeth which is what irritates your gums, so;
- brush teeth twice a day, preferably with an electric toothbrush and always with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes
- clean in between the teeth on a daily basis using interdental brushes, floss or tape
- see the hygienist at least every 6 months and more frequently if recommended to do so
2. Dealing with Morning Sickness
Vomiting reduces the strength of the enamel and this can be a major cause of problems associated with pregnancy. Even the increase in levels of stomach acid associated with nausea and reflux can damage the teeth. The best way to minimise problems is to try and allow the teeth to remineralise by making sure there’s plenty of fluoride present.
To reduce any damage to the enamel caused by morning sickness:
- Try to brush your teeth first thing when you get up in the morning. If it makes you gag at least smear a small amount of fluoride containing toothpaste on your teeth
- DON’T brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after being sick. The enamel is at it’s weakest in this time. You can use a fluoride containing alcohol free mouthwash instead or rinse with plain water
- Snack on dry crackers rather than sugary foods to reduce nausea
I suspect that this is the main reason for the increase in dental problems associated with pregnancy. The increased desire for and intake of carbohydrates, especially sugary snacks drastically increases the chance of plaque build up, inflamed gums and dental decay occurring. Also, increasing the frequency of food intake during the day does the same.
Now, I don’t want to be a killjoy and I am a firm believer in everything in moderation but there are a few suggestions that may help to reduce the risk of problems developing:
- Follow the 5:2 rule. Brushing your teeth twice a day helps to protect against 5 acid attacks or ‘meal moments’ over the course of a day. This includes any acidic or sugary drinks (even diet fizzy drinks). and any snacks.
- It is best to eat 5 small meals or 3 main meals with two snacks rather than to constantly graze throughout the day. Even healthy food and snacks should fall within the 5 meal moments.
4. See the dentist
Remember that your NHS maternity exemption certificate doesn’t just get you free prescriptions but also entitles you to free NHS dental treatment so take advantage of it. Your dentist will always act in your best interests and will only offer appropriate treatment. Anything that is not urgent and can be monitored until after your baby is born will be deferred.
If you have any concerns about any aspects of your dental care then speak to your dentist or if you feel unable to do so, contact the dental practice and ask to speak to the practice manager.
- X-rays are safe to be taken during pregnancy but will most likely be avoided unless they are absolutely essential. Dental x-rays use a very low radiation dose that is equivalent to less than one days background radiation and is about the same radiation exposure as a 1-2 hour airplane flight. The main beam of the x-ray is directed at the teeth and well away from where baby is residing.
- Local anaesthetic is also safe during pregnancy as long as your dentist is aware you are pregnant. My personal preference is to avoid anaesthetic that contains adrenaline when possible as it can raise the heart rate.
5. Treat Pain and infection as Early as Possible
Early dental pain (short, sharp shooting pain, sensitive to hot/cold/sweet, not keeping you awake at night) is much more easy to manage and treat then more advanced dental pain (constant throbbing ache, not relieved by painkillers, keeping you awake at night) or infection.
Any dental pain needs to be managed as early as possible because any infection during pregnancy can be problematic and it is best to avoid antibiotics where possible. Treatment for early dental pain could be as simple as the application of a desensitising paste or may require a filling. More advanced dental pain may need a root filling or an extraction.
If you have dental pain, this is one time that x-rays would be considered essential in order to ensure a correct diagnosis is made and treatment would be advisable rather than a prescription of antibiotics.
Following these 5 pieces of advice should minimise any detrimental effect on your teeth and mouth during your pregnancy and will help to ensure your own ongoing health as well as your developing baby’s.
I hope it has been useful!