Doctors advise women to take care of their bodies during pregnancy. Women are cautioned to eat a healthy diet, stay active and to take prenatal vitamins to contribute to the good health of their impending arrival. Another important part of a healthy pregnancy is practicing good oral hygiene.
Pregnant women should also make time to ensure they take care of their teeth and gums. This is because the hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy lead to tooth decay and gingivitis, and it is estimated that 50 percent of pregnant women have a form of periodontal disease. If these conditions go untreated, they lead to tooth and gum loss, as well as serious health complications that impact both mother and child.
Untreated periodontal disease is especially dangerous for pregnant mothers and their unborn babies because, in many cases, it can lead to preterm delivery before 37 weeks of gestation. Preterm babies often experience serious health risks, including respiratory health issues. Other complications of periodontal disease include extreme high blood pressure, a condition in pregnant women known as preeclampsia. This condition puts the patients at risk of stroke, heart attack, extreme swelling and may impact organ function.
Mothers with periodontal infections also often deliver low-birth-weight babies who often face respiratory and cardiac health issues, as well as neurological complications that may affect them later in life. Other impacts of low birth weight include obesity and high blood pressure. Low birth weight babies are predisposed to diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Preterm birth and low birth weights are linked to periodontal disease are linked because the bacteria that are responsible for causing oral infections travels throughout the rest of the body through the bloodstream to the placenta. These bacterial infections raise the risk of increasing the blood pressure of the mother and inflammation of the placenta. As a result of this inflammation, the body produces hormones known as prostaglandins, which start labor and cause the uterus to contract.
Dr. Steven P. Rogers, D.M.D, is a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, a dentist who cautions pregnant patients to practice proper oral hygiene by brushing and flossing at least twice per day, as well as seeing their dentist regularly for checkups.
"A regular dental checkup helps to ensure that the teeth and gums are in good shape and healthy," Rogers said. "When mom is healthy, the baby is healthy."
Research studies show that pregnant women who did not receive oral health care treatments during pregnancy often have poor dental health.
Dentists like Rogers, along with many obstetricians, often counsel patients to see the dentist throughout their pregnancies. After assessing the state of the patient’s oral health, the dentist will develop a treatment plan to address any areas of concern. One particular concern that dentists look for is gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums brought on by the buildup of dental plaque. Plaque is a sticky, film-like substance that spreads over the teeth and gums in between brushing and flossing. This film is full of tooth decay causing bacteria. In some cases, some areas may be treated during the patient’s pregnancy, while others may be scheduled after the patient gives birth. Most dental treatments are perfectly safe during pregnancy, advises Rogers. More serious treatments, like extractions or root canals, are often rescheduled till after delivery.
"Regular cleaning and fluoride treatments are safe and appropriate interventions for pregnant patients," Rogers says.
The American Dental Association ruled that X-rays are a safe procedure for pregnant women, as well. Even though they are safe, some women wait until after delivery to have X-rays.
"Pregnant patients who are concerned with radiation exposure, or any other dental treatment, should schedule a consultation with their dentist to get answers to their questions and discuss their concerns," Rogers said.