As we are all aware, many changes occur during pregnancy. Not only to your lifestyle, but to your body, health and well-being too – so we are told. I had many mums tell me this over the years. However, the reality of that never truly hit until I became pregnant myself.
I’ve been a Dental Receptionist for 4 years now, consistently surrounded by dentists and their knowledge. When I was pregnant with my now 8-month-old son, I was kindly warned about oral health during pregnancy, especially seeing as I had braces.
Yet with all the dental influence around me, I really wasn’t prepared for the changes in my mouth during pregnancy. So, from one mum to another, I hope my story can help you with some insight in what to expect, prevention, tips, and most importantly, how oral hygiene can help keep you and your beautiful unborn bundle safe and healthy.
HOW PREGNANCY AFFECTED MY TEETH
It all began at about 8 weeks pregnant, I woke up with a metallic taste in my mouth. I thought, surely it can’t be my braces, I had had them for over a year. So, I got up to brush and floss as I did routinely every morning. I then did the thing we all do when flossing, and checked the floss, shocked to see how much blood there was. That explains the metallic taste, but why?
I went to work that morning and expressed my concerns with one of the dentists. She explained that one of the most common complaints in pregnant women is pregnancy gingivitis, or bleeding of the gums. This is due to the hormonal changes your body during pregnancy, where the gums may begin to swell and ache – as if the hormones don’t already wreak enough havoc.
So, the dentist booked a spot for a check and clean in her lunch break for me and explained a real eye opener: bleeding gums can lead to more serious gum disease such as periodontitis, if left untreated.
During pregnancy, the bones and ligaments in your mouth, as well as in your body, become more relaxed. Because of this, the risk of teeth becoming wobbly or loose increases. However, you will only be at risk of losing those teeth if there is an underlying issue such as periodontitis. (Lucky for me, the bleeding stopped when my hormones balanced).
I couldn’t shake one thought though - why was I not instructed to book a check and clean when I was at the doctors confirming my pregnancy and why isn’t there enough available information to newly expectant mothers? Well mums and mums-to-be, that’s why I’m writing this for you now – pass it on to any of your expectant mummy-to-be friends!
WHAT CAUSES TEETH TO DECAY DURING PREGNANCY
5 months had passed and I was very heavily pregnant, and now completely paranoid about my oral health (remember I had braces during my pregnancy) so during an appointment to tighten my braces, I asked for a quick check and clean, where I was told I had decay in my upper right canine. Again, super stressed and confused, what had caused this decay?
I had been so good with my morning and night oral hygiene. My dentist, who is a mother herself explained to me what I should have done after an episode of morning sickness.
She explained that with those well-known night-time pregnancy cravings where I find myself reaching for that bag of irresistible sweets, it’s imperative that I was flossing and brushing twice a day, or after a naughty treat.
On top of the cravings, the stomach acids from morning sickness weakened the enamel of my teeth. To combat this, I should have rinsed my mouth with water after morning sickness and then wait 30 minutes before brushing and flossing. So it turns out, the two short weeks of morning sickness that I did experience, coupled with late night snacking right before bed, did have quite an impact on my teeth!
DRY MOUTH OR TOO MUCH SALIVA?
I was also educated about two rather annoying symptoms of pregnancy that can affect your teeth: dry mouth or excess saliva. More commonly, but rarely spoken of is dry mouth. Having a dry mouth in pregnancy can be quite an issue, as well as being super uncomfortable, and that it was.
Apparently not having enough saliva means your mouth isn’t able to wash away the debris left in your mouth in between meals, which increases your chance of decay as well as negatively impact the population of bacteria in your mouth, which affects your gums, resulting in bad breath – ain’t nobody got time for that!
I did experience a very dry mouth, but luckily for me, with thorough oral hygiene and ensuring I stayed well hydrated, my teeth (and breath) didn’t suffer. Although I don’t recall whether I experienced excess saliva or not (not including salivating over pregnancy cravings), this symptom proves to be less common. Excess saliva can make us pregnant women feel more nauseas, cause morning sickness and thus returns the risk of decay. One big vicious circle.
HOW CAN POOR ORAL HYGIENE AFFECT YOUR BABY?
Now for the serious stuff: I was on one of my mum-group Facebook pages and saw a post about one of the ladies who had given birth at 31 weeks, after suffering from a gum infection. What? How terrifying.
I asked some dental colleagues and did some research, and here are is how your baby can be affected by infections of the teeth and gums
- Born prematurely
- Low birth weight
As mothers, it is in our nature to do anything to protect our children, even before we’ve met them! So how can we help prevent this from happening?
It’s as simple as this: as soon as possible after you learn you a pregnant, organise an appointment to see your dentist for a full check and clean. This will help catch any early problems and treat them before they can become a threat to you and your baby.
I promise that this is an important step in planning for baby’s arrival – same way you attend your obstetrician appointments! Look after yourself and you inevitably look after your baby.
“WON'T DENTAL PROCEDURES BE A RISK TO MY BABY?"
Ok so what if you’re pregnant, have already seen your dentist and he tells you that you need an X-ray to properly diagnose a small filling. I know what you’re thinking, “is it safe to take X-rays and the use of local anaesthetic”? Most dental practices will ensure they take the right precautions such as using protective lead aprons over your precious bump and administering the correct local anaesthetic at the safe gestation in your pregnancy. Again, remember my upper right canine, needed an X-ray and a filling with local anaesthetic and I have a beautifully healthy baby boy!
Even though my experience all round wasn’t as bad as it could have been if I hadn’t caught the decay early and didn’t practice healthy oral hygiene habits, I hope I’ve been able to shed some light and that you will be picking up the phone and calling your dentist as you finish the last word on this page -it’s so worth it. Plus, who doesn’t love the feeling of professionally cleaned teeth – pamper day, you’re growing a human, you need it!
To finish up, here’s a check-list to make your life a little bit easier during pregnancy – plus you can pick the items up while doing that first shop for your little one.
- Organise check and clean with your dentist upon learning of your pregnancy
- Buy a cute little necessities bag (and fill it with the following an have it easily accessible in your bathroom):
- Soft bristle toothbrush to ensure those sensitive gums remain pain free while brushing.
- Floss sticks and a compact mirror (for when you’re too tired to stand in front of the mirror)
- Alcohol-free mouthwash
- Fluoride-based toothpaste