For many women, pregnancy means a lot of appointments. Checkups are necessary to ensure mother and baby are in good health, test blood sugar, and genetics and include ultrasounds, too. Pregnancy also means patients should make another appointment – with their dentist.
Pregnant women should make routine trips to the dentist a part of their prenatal care plan because pregnancy has a significant impact on a woman’s dental health. 50 percent of women experience periodontal disease during their pregnancy. This is because of the hormonal changes in the body brought on by pregnancy. This can trigger tooth decay, gingivitis, and tooth loss. If left untreated these conditions lead to infections that cause complications during pregnancy that impact both mother and child.
According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, pregnant women with periodontal disease face risk of early delivery – typically before 37 weeks. Babies that are born before 37 weeks likely experience respiratory health issues and other serious ailments. Periodontal disease also results in acute onset preeclampsia, a dangerous and sometimes fatal high blood pressure condition that causes swelling, stroke and even impact the mother’s organ function.
Studies by the American Association of Periodontists also indicate a potential link mothers with periodontal disease and low birth weight babies. Babies born with low birth weight have serious health complications, including respiratory, cardiac and neurological issues. Babies born with low birth weight also face chronic health complications later in life, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Periodontal disease is believed to impact pregnancy when bacteria or infection found present in the mouth travel to the placenta. This bacteria increases the mother’s blood pressure and inflames the placenta. Another explanation is that the inflammatory nature of bacteria present during periodontal infections causes the body to increase prostaglandins, the hormones that cause the uterus to contract and trigger labor. These explanations support the oral-systemic link that connects the body’s total health to the health of the mouth. Knoxville dentist Dr. James Erpenbach, D.D.S., confirms the connection between the mouth and the body, “Any infection – in any part of your body – has the potential to impact the rest of your body. Bacteria travel through your bloodstream, organs, and lungs – and affect those organs and your health.”
Despite the severe health impact of periodontal disease, not all pregnant women are aware of its complications or have access to care to treat or prevent dental issues. Studies show that pregnant minority women often have poor dental health and do not receive adequate dental hygiene education. Also, some ob-gyn doctors do not discuss prenatal dental care with their patients citing personal concern over risks of treatments.
Regular dental care during pregnancy is encouraged by most ob-gyn doctors and dental professionals. Pregnant women should make an appointment with their dentist to discuss their current state of dental health, any areas of concern and develop a treatment plan if necessary. Just like a regular examination, dentists will check a pregnant patient’s teeth and gums. Regular preventative cleanings are encouraged and scheduled more frequently if gingivitis is present. If is also safe for pregnant women to receive preventative treatments like fluoride. Some dentists may delay certain procedures, like root canals, until after the patient gives birth.
X-rays have also been deemed safe for pregnant women according to the American Dental Association. However, some patients may choose to delay x-rays until after giving birth. Patients should discuss x-rays and other questions regarding their dental treatment with their provider early in their pregnancy.
All pregnant women are encouraged to brush and floss regularly.