Illustration by Daria Krikunova
Few things can turn your life around as much as a baby – and many of these changes actually start before you actually get to hold your baby. You’ve probably been told that now you are “eating for two”, and this concept applies to almost all aspects of your self-care routine.
How does your oral health play into all of this? As part of your general health, your usual oral hygiene routine may have to be adjusted or tweaked around your pregnancy. See below to learn why and how it’s likely to happen.
Are my teeth affected by pregnancy?
In short, yes. During pregnancy, your levels of estrogen and progesterone will rise sharply. These are meant to help your body sustain the pregnancy, but they cause a series of unfortunate effects around the body.
In particular, high levels of progesterone can make gingivitis (bleeding or inflamed gums) extremely common (1). Pregnancy gingivitis affects up to 75% of women, especially during the third trimester (2). In turn, gingivitis can cause some of your teeth to feel loose, and may even create the right conditions for infection.
Women who suffer from morning sickness (or vomiting during early pregnancy) may accidentally damage their teeth. The stomach acids that reach into the mouth during vomiting can affect the enamel and leave the teeth more exposed to bacteria.
Will my oral health impact the pregnancy (and the baby)?
Yes. Researchers are not completely sure why, but women who experience periodontitis or severe gingivitis during pregnancy have a higher likelihood of experiencing complications during delivery (3). These include pre-term deliveries and low birth weight babies.
What should I do, then?
Pregnancy entails some delicate compromises: the impact of leaving a condition untreated during pregnancy tends to be larger than during normal times. At the same time, treatments and dental procedures can be more difficult, as many medications are discouraged at this time. The best way to address this conundrum is through strong prevention. See below to learn what to do at each step.
Ideally, we would all have a clean bill of health before getting pregnant – but that’s a tall order. If you are planning to get pregnant soon, you should still make sure your oral cavity is in the best possible shape. During your next routine cleaning, get a full oral checkup: this will help you identify any troublesome spots, monitor them better, or even fix anything urgent before the pregnancy.
Most routine dental care can be done during pregnancy, so it’s best not to cancel that cleaning: it is now more important than ever! You will just need to take some extra precautions during this appointment:
Inform your dentist that you are pregnant, both when booking the appointment and at the start of it.
Bring a list with all the medication and prenatal vitamins you are taking, including names and dosages.
If your dentist prescribes or recommends something, make sure to check with your OB/GYN too!
During early pregnancy, hormone levels will still be relatively manageable, so your main source of concern will be morning sickness. If you ever vomit, make sure you rinse your mouth with water immediately after. If this happens around the time you’re supposed to brush your teeth, it’s best to wait a little (about half an hour): your teeth enamel will be a bit soft after being exposed to the stomach acids.
As the pregnancy progresses, your risk of gingivitis will progressively increase. It’s best to adhere strictly to your oral hygiene routine (brushing and flossing). If you are experiencing sweet cravings, make sure you also brush your teeth after eating any candy. When possible, try to fulfil your cravings with fruits or products with no added sugar.
Finally, if you do notice tooth decay or if your gingivitis is getting out of hand, make sure to address it early on. You can use the Adent app to identify any early signs of trouble.
After delivering the baby, your hormone levels will return to normal, as will your risk of tooth decay. However, you may not be able to jump right back into the same medication or treatments as before the pregnancy, especially if you are breastfeeding. Book an appointment with your dentist: he or she will evaluate your mouth’s condition and will help you build a road-map to fix any new issues.
Pregnancy can be an exciting or an exhausting journey – and many times, it is both at the same time! Keeping up with your oral health is but a small side of it, but it can help you feel ready for the next set of changes to come.
1. Zachariasen RD. The effect of elevated ovarian hormones on periodontal health: oral contraceptives and pregnancy. Women Health. 1993;20(2):21‐30. DOI:10.1300/J013v20n02_02. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8372477/
2. Silk H, Douglass AB, Douglass JM, Silk L. (2008). Oral health during pregnancy. American Family Physician. 2008; 77:1139–44. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18481562/
3. Dörtbudak O, Eberhardt R, Ulm M, Persson GR (2005). Periodontitis, a marker of risk in pregnancy for preterm birth. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2005 Jan; 32(1):45-52. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15642058/
4. American Dental Association. Pregnancy Dental Concerns. Available online at https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/pregnancy/concerns