If you’re pregnant – or planning to become pregnant – chances are you know some of the basics about being healthy for you and your baby. Eat a balanced diet. Don’t smoke. Get enough rest. And the list goes on.
But did you know that your oral health becomes increasingly important when you’re planning to become pregnant and during pregnancy? Pregnancy can intensify dental disease. Minor dental problems you had before you became pregnant could worsen.
Common Dental Issues during Pregnancy
Most moms-to-be experience cravings. Additional snacking on sugary foods can lead to increased tooth decay. Try to limit foods containing sugar to mealtimes only. If you do give into one of those Oreo cravings, drink a glass of water while you’re eating, perhaps even swish with it a bit. Then, wait and brush your teeth once 30 to 60 minutes later, which allows time for the acid/sugar buildup to neutralize. If you brush too soon, it can actually cause more harm than good with all that acid and sugar.
Beyond this, nausea and vomiting affects 80 percent of all pregnant women. Stomach acid from vomiting can erode your teeth. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who suffer from “morning sickness,” make sure to rinse your mouth out with water and baking soda solution afterward. The combination will neutralize the acid. Also, brush your teeth gently – again after 30 to 60 minutes – and chew gum that has Xylitol in it.
“Pregnancy gingivitis,” which is increased bleeding and tenderness of the gums, may affect women during pregnancy due to increased hormones. Great oral hygiene helps prevent this from occurring. To help prevent a build-up of plaque, brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least daily, paying special attention to cleaning along and just below the gum line.
Many pregnant women avoid the dentist altogether to avoid X-rays. However, dental X-rays are extremely safe through the second semester, emitting one of the lowest amounts of radiation—comparable to that of a short airplane flight. No single X-ray produces enough radiation exposure to harm a developing fetus, according to the American College of Radiology.
An important note: while X-rays and fillings are safe, cosmetic dental work, like teeth whitening, should be avoided during pregnancy.
A Less Common Dental Issue: Pregnancy Tumors
If you’re pregnant you’re probably aware of how your hormones are causing many changes in your body. A rise in estrogen and progesterone can cause symptoms like morning sickness, fatigue, brain fog, and dizzy spells. But you might not realize they’re also at play when it comes to your oral health. A mix of plaque buildup and hormones can cause a pregnant woman’s gum tissue to inflame, resulting in something called a “pregnancy tumor.” These tumors, also known as pyogenic granulomas, are not cancerous.
Pregnancy tumors occur in about 5% of pregnant women but because of hormonal changes in the body, they often disappear after the baby is born.
Tips for Scheduling Dental Appointments While Pregnant
First, try to schedule a dental checkup within the first trimester to assess your oral health and determine whether you need a cleaning. If you need cavities filled or other necessary procedures, the second trimester is the best time. Elective procedures like tooth whitening or other cosmetic work should be delayed until after the baby is delivered.
If a dental emergency arises, be sure to let your dentist know that you are pregnant. He or she will know what precautions need to be taken to resolve your dental problem.
Oral Health Resources for Low-income or At-risk Pregnant Women
Outside of the $1,000 emergency dental services all AHCCS adults have, Medicaid-eligible mothers do not have coverage for dental services in Arizona, so often these moms have to suffer without dental care because of these barriers. However, locally there are many resources for low-income or at-risk pregnant women to receive dental care, several of which are supported by grants from the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation:
• Mountain Park Community Health Center ensures patients in their obstetrics department /
• Maggie’s Place offers housing, medical, dental, and nutrition services for pregnant homeless women.
• Marana Healthcare’s dental clinic provides free cleanings and X-rays to pregnant women in their second and third trimesters that are using the health center’s obstetrician services or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Programs.
And a final bit of advice: If you have dental insurance, make sure to check if it offers a third cleaning benefit. This will allow you to visit the dentist for a cleaning three times in a calendar year if you are pregnant. Ideally, your first check-up and cleaning should be within the first trimester.
Dr. Heather Schneider is the dental director at Delta Dental of Arizona and has more than 19 years of experience in dental administration, dental education, and clinical dentistry. For information, visit deltadentalazblog.com