Morning sickness? Extreme food cravings? Just two of the many factors that can lead to poor oral health during pregnancy.

As a registered dental hygienist and mom of two young children, I have seen firsthand the effects of pregnancy on oral health. Pregnant women sometimes avoid professional dental care during pregnancy for various reasons, which is never a good idea. Factors such as elevated hormone levels can cause various gum and teeth issues that can affect not just the mother, but the baby’s health as well.

Taking good care of your teeth during pregnancy is extremely important. Higher levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones, poor food choices due to cravings, frequent snacking due to increased hunger, and inadequate daily oral hygiene resulting from nausea or sensitive teeth and gums can lead to cavities, tooth erosion, gingival inflammation, and non-cancerous pregnancy tumors on the gums. Nearly 75% of pregnant women have gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease that occurs when the gums become red and swollen. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can cause serious infection in the gums that ultimately results in loss of tissue attachment and bone that supports the teeth. Additionally, bacteria can be transmitted through the blood and amniotic fluid in the womb to the unborn child, contributing to risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, premature contractions, or serious infection for the newborn child.

The Journal of the American Dental Association found that pregnant women with chronic periodontal disease were four to seven times more likely to deliver premature (born before 37 weeks) and underweight babies than mothers with healthy gums. Not all premature babies have health complications, but premature birth can cause short-term and long-term medical problems ranging from breathing and digestive issues to hearing and vision problems.

To prevent these issues, women should establish a consistent at-home dental care routine and maintain professional cleanings and dental visits throughout their pregnancy. Some women may require an additional cleaning during their pregnancy, which may be covered by their dental insurance company. Many dental procedures can be performed safely during pregnancy and should be scheduled during the second trimester since it may be difficult to lay flat for an extended period during the third trimester. Although safe during pregnancy, digital X-rays can and most likely will be postponed until after the baby arrives. Elective and cosmetic treatments, like whitening, should be avoided during pregnancy because there is not enough data to show their effects on unborn babies.

Baby teeth begin to develop five-to-six weeks into pregnancy and the first tooth emerges at around five months of age! Dental exams are recommended at the first sign of a tooth and no later than 12 months old. Establishing healthy dental habits at a young age is critical to lasting, positive dental health throughout life!

  3. Society for General Microbiology. “Pregnancy: Bad Oral Hygiene Can Lead To Complications In Pregnancy And Problems For Babies.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2009.