Pregnancy is a life-changing time for most women. In the process of creating a new life, the body transforms in many ways. While some of these can be beautiful, others may bring health complications if they are not handled with care. The focus during pregnancy tends to be on reproductive health and overall well-being, but we should all remember oral health plays a role too. Pregnancy can affect oral health in a number of ways, the most common of which manifests in a correlation between pregnancy complications and periodontal diseases like gingivitis. Pregnancy is a busy time and you may feel you have too much on your plate, but understanding the role gingivitis can play is an important step in keeping yourself healthy.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal diseases are diseases of the soft tissues that hold the teeth in place. Untreated they can do nasty things to your gums, teeth, and jawbones. They moves through a number of stages, with the earliest being gingivitis, a mild and reversible infection of the gums. Symptoms of gingivitis include the following:
- Gums that easily bleed during regular brushing and flossing
- Red, swollen, and/or puffy looking gums
- Receding gum line; gum shrinking away from the tooth
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
It’s important to recognize the symptoms of gingivitis because it is generally easily treatable and if left unchecked can lead to much more serious diseases which in turn may result in tooth loss, abscesses, and damage to the jaw bone.
Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy
Periodontal disease may manifest during pregnancy for any of a number of reasons, just as they might in “normal” life. Neglecting your regular brushing and flossing routine, missing regular dentist appointments and cleanings, or eating junk food can all contribute. During the busy months of pregnancy, it’s easy to do all of those things. While normally the early stages of periodontal disease, like gingivitis, are easily treatable, during pregnancy they can lead to complications for the baby-to-be. These complications might include:
- Preterm labor
- Low or reduced birth weight
- Restrictions on the baby’s growth
While the exact mechanisms causing this are still not understood, the hypothesis is the bacteria that cause periodontal disease spread to the baby via its connection to the mother’s body.
Prevention and Treatment During Pregnancy
The good news is, that if caught in time, it’s still fairly easy to treat early-stage periodontal diseases (like gingivitis) during pregnancy. Regular cleanings by dental professionals are generally the best way to approach this, but your dentist will tell you what’s best for you. You should let your oral health care providers know if you are pregnant, as it may affect the treatments they recommend.
As always, however, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to periodontal disease and pregnancy, the best approach is to maintain a regular brushing and flossing routine, get your teeth cleaned regularly, and focus on eating a healthy, smile-friendly diet. Pregnancy is a busy time, and there are so many demands on new mothers it’s often easy to forget these things, but they’re a vital part of both your health and that of your baby. Think of it this way: you’re starting your baby off right but instilling the importance of good oral health for both the infant and yourself.