The ''old wives' tale'' that a woman loses a tooth for each pregnancy is, thankfully, no longer a reality for most women. During pregnancy, however, women do need to take extra care of their teeth and gums as the changes in hormones can mean their gums are more susceptible to bleeding and inflammation.
Dental health care before you get pregnant
You are likely to have fewer problems with your teeth when pregnant if you already have good dental health habits. These include:
- visiting your dentist regularly before planning to get pregnant
- brushing your teeth at least twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste
- flossing between your teeth before going to bed
- not drinking too much bottled water, which lacks the fluoride needed to help prevent tooth decay.
Correct brushing technique
When brushing, it is important to remember the tooth has five surfaces: a front, a back, two sides and a top. You need to make sure every surface is cleaned. Dental floss will help you clean the front and back of your teeth as these cannot be reached with the toothbrush.
Pregnancy and dental health care
This daily routine should continue when pregnant, but you may find you need to use a softer toothbrush if your gums bleed easily. If you have bleeding gums, pain or inflammation, make sure you see your dentist as soon as possible.
Common dental health problems during pregnancy
The hormones associated with pregnancy can make some women more prone to gum problems, such as swelling, bleeding (especially when brushing) and gingivitis (gum inflammation). Most gum problems resolve after the birth but if they don't, it is important that you visit your dentist.
Once you are pregnant, you may experience morning sickness in the first weeks or months of pregnancy. If you are vomiting, the acid from the stomach contents can dissolve some of the tooth enamel. If you brush your teeth every time you vomit you can actually damage them. Smearing some toothpaste on your teeth and then rinsing your mouth with water can help you to feel fresh again.
Gagging when brushing teeth
Women often find that brushing their teeth makes them gag, particularly when cleaning their back teeth. Sometimes, the toothpaste triggers off this response so you may need to avoid it for a while or change to a different type. Try to return to using fluoride toothpaste as soon as you can tolerate it. Sometimes, using a smaller brush head (child's tooth brush) can help reduce gagging.
Some women also find they have significant cravings in pregnancy or they may find the nausea drives them to frequent snacking. Try to eat food low in sugar. Lots of soft drinks, for example, can lead to dental decay. Water and milk are ideal drinks.
What should you tell your dentist?
Always inform the dentist that you are pregnant as it can affect your dental care. X-rays will usually be deferred until after the birth and general anaesthesia tends to be avoided, if possible.
Can dental health affect the baby?
There is some evidence that dental disease has an effect not only on our health, it can also affect the baby's health. There is a link proposed in several studies between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth. Other studies, however, have not found this. More research will no doubt emerge on this subject in the near future. Pregnant women should remember that healthy teeth lead to healthy mothers and healthy babies.