Dental health and prenatal health – do those two things seem unrelated to you? Today, we realize the body is a complex and holistic system; what happens in one area can have serious positive or negative effects in other areas. This is the case with oral health, in general, since tooth decay and gum disease are linked to other health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and even cancer. For pregnant women, oral health is especially important because it can effect your pregnancy, labor and delivery, as well as your baby’s health.
Let’s discuss oral and dental health and how it relates to prenatal care. If you have recently discovered you’re pregnant, we recommend visiting your dentist as soon as possible to have a routine checkup and tooth cleaning.
The Link Between Oral Health and a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby
While it’s true that you are what you eat, dental health is also genetically linked. Even the most conscientious of eaters can find themselves the victim of cavities, gum disease (gingivitis) and other conditions that have adverse health effects. Brushing and flossing are a major defense against decay and disease-causing bacteria.
Pregnancy changes your oral environment. As you are all too aware, pregnancy does a thorough once-over on your body’s natural chemical makeup, which can affect you in multiple ways.
· Decreased enamel: One bio-chemical side effect of pregnancy is that it raises the acidity levels in your mouth. This leads to gum sensitivity and increased risk for gum disease, which can affect your baby’s health (more on that later). It can also erode the enamel on your teeth, making them more vulnerable to bacterial infection that leads to decay. Depending on your current dental health, your dentist my recommend more frequent cleanings or the application of dental sealants to lower your risk of cavities and gum disease.
· Gum inflammation: The hormonal changes in your body, combined with higher acid levels leads to increased gum inflammation. Many women experience bleeding gums for the first time. Attention to oral hygiene, including bushing twice daily, flossing regularly, and trading your regular mouthwash for a salt/water combo can help. If you don’t treat your inflammation, it may contribute to pre-term labor and low birth weight.
· Loose teeth: Throughout pregnancy, your body is working to prepare itself for labor and delivery. Elevated estrogen and progesterone levels help to soften connective tissues, including ligaments and joints, to your hips and pelvis will be better able to accommodate the baby when it comes down the birth canal. Since the effects of this process aren’t exclusive to the pelvic region, you may notice that your teeth are more loose in their sockets.
Routine dental exams will allow the dentist to track your oral changes and ensure they are within the normal range, and aren’t posing a risk to you or your baby.
Gum disease has been linked to pre-term labor.
Multiple studies have supported findings linking periodontitis to preterm labor. Some of the bacterial strains, and/or secretions produced by gingivitis-causing bacteria can make their way to the placenta, cervix and other uterine tissues, causing further irritation and inflammation. This heightened inflammatory response may cause pre-term labor. This is a situation you want avoid since pre-term labor is associated with lower birth weights, underdeveloped lungs, and places your baby at risk for other adverse health conditions.
The entirety of your body deserves attention while you’re pregnant. Nurture every part, from head to toe, to give yourself and your baby every opportunity to remain healthy. Have any questions or concerns about your oral health or other pregnancy issues? Contact Overlake OB/GYN.