Pregnancy can cause problems with your teeth, so give your pearly whites the care they deserve.
WORDS RACHEL KWEK
While it is not true that you have to lose a tooth for every child you have, pregnancy is a period of time that you have to take extra care of your teeth and gums. Learning how pregnancy can affect your dental health helps you keep your teeth and gums in the best possible condition throughout and after your pregnancy.
How are my Teeth and Gums Affected when I get Pregnant?
According to Dr Francine Chia from Smile Focus, your body experiences a surge in hormones during pregnancy. This exaggerates the immune system’s response to plaque on your teeth and make them more prone to plaque accumulation, so you may need to make changes to your dental care routines. Dr Tan Yoke Meng from I Smile Dental adds that the changes in the hormones circulating in the body during pregnancy can make your gums more prone to inflammation, causing them to bleed more easily. Dr Tram Hoang of Q & M Dental Centre at City Square Mall says this may or may not be painful and your teeth may even appear to be shaky or loose. “These symptoms typically are symptoms of a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis and occur between the second to eighth month, and up to three months post-partum. In rare cases, benign lumps called pyogenic granulomas can develop and they usually resolve after the baby is born. In cases where they do not, they can be removed by a dentist. Pyogenic granulomas can also be removed during the pregnancy if they cause excessive bleeding or pain.”
How do I Deal with these Changes?
The first step in maintaining your dental health during this period of hormonal upheaval, as dentists Motherhood spoke to recommend, is to stick to good dental habits. Dr Hoang says, “Pregnant women should maintain good oral hygiene by brushing twice a day and cleaning between the teeth with either floss or interdental brushes if they have spaces between their teeth. Adequate removal of bacterial plaque and food can reduce the likelihood of developing pregnancy gingivitis. A research study found that pregnant mothers diagnosed with gum disease who had rinsed with an alcohol-free mouthwash twice a day for 30 seconds had a reduced chance of delivering premature babies than mothers diagnosed with gum disease who had only rinsed with water.” Dr Tan also suggests brushing the gum gently twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
Morning sickness, a common symptom in the first trimester of pregnancy, can actually add to your dental woes. Dr Chia says, when you throw up, “the acids from the stomach can damage the enamel of your teeth”. Tooth enamel is the hard, translucent layer of substance that covers the visible part of our teeth and protects them from decay. Erosion to the tooth enamel is irreversible as it is made up of non-living material and cannot regenerate. Hence, rinse well with water after vomiting and allow your saliva to neutralise the acidity before brushing. If brushing triggers nausea, Dr Chia suggests using a child-size toothbrush or brush without toothpaste.
On top of brushing and flossing daily, it is also important to consciously reduce your intake of sugary food, which contributes to plaque accumulation and decay. Dr Chia advises mothers-to-be to satisfy their cravings for something sweet by snacking on fruit or dairy products.
Dairy products, fruits and vegetables are also good sources of essential minerals which are needed for developing your baby’s teeth, gums and bones.
“Tell your dentist if you’ve noticed any swelling, redness, bleeding, sores or inflammation in your mouth. Oral infections may become systemic infections, which can adversely affect your baby,” Dr Chia stresses. Dr Hoang also said that you should consult a dentist as soon as possible should you face any urgent oral health problems.
Which Dental Treatments are Unsafe During Pregnancy?
Dental treatments are not definite no-nos during pregnancy. “Dental scaling & polishing are safe and recommended during pregnancy to prevent gum disease. Caries or cavities should be treated to reduce the chance of infection, which studies have associated with pre-term or low birth weight babies.” Dr Tan advises. However, he cautions, “Although there is no evidence that amalgam fillings are a health risk, they are not recommended during pregnancy. The dentist will suggest alternative materials for the fillings.”
Both Dr Tan and Dr Chia say that X-rays are usually avoided during pregnancy, both agree that it is generally safe for pregnant women to go for X-rays.
While it is safe to go ahead with regular necessary procedures such as fillings and X-rays, Dr Chia says it is perhaps best to postpone elective procedures such as teeth whitening until you have given birth.
When should I Visit my Dentist?
One question many mummies-to-be have is whether there are certain periods during their pregnancy they should avoid dental treatments. Dr Hoang says, “It is best to avoid dental treatment during the first trimester and the third trimester unless it is an emergency. The ideal time for dental treatment is the second trimester (14-20 weeks of pregnancy).”
Dr Chia explains that the nausea experienced during the first trimester may make it difficult for pregnant women to have their gums and teeth examined. Dr Tan adds, “During the second half of the third trimester, it may be difficult and uncomfortable to lie on the back for an extended period of time, and stresses associated with dental visits may increase the risk of premature labour in some patients.”
Dentists advise women to consult their dentists on their oral health status and undergo any necessary treatments prior to getting pregnant if possible.
How about Postpartum Dental Care?
See your dentist as soon as possible after delivery to sort out any dental issues that have developed during our pregnancy. “It can often take several months after your baby is born for your hormones to settle down and for your oral health to return to its pre-pregnancy state, especially if you are breast feeding,” Dr Chia says. It is thus advisable that you keep up with your efforts to maintain healthy gums and teeth after your baby is delivered. Dental care does not stop with your baby’s birth.