Dental Care During Pregnancy
When most mothers-to-be think of prenatal care, they envision regular appointments with their OBGYN and/or their primary care provider. Not too many women picture regular dental appointments as being part of their prenatal care routine, especially considering the fact that the mouth and the uterus are nowhere near one another. Nevertheless, oral health during pregnancy has been found by the American Dental Association, American Academy of Periodontics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Oral Health Foundation to have a direct effect on pregnancy.
You may or may not be aware of the connection between your oral and overall health. In the simplest sense this connection suggests those in poor oral health have been found to be at an increased risk for a variety of medical conditions, while those in good oral health are at less risk. Although the exact relationship between oral health and pregnancy complications is not exactly known and is still being researched, current research has suggested that there is a correlation between poor oral health and an increased risk of pregnancy complications such as premature delivery, intrauterine growth restriction, low birth weight, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.
Unfortunately, the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy put women at a higher risk of developing dental issues. For starters, estrogen and progesterone levels rise dramatically during pregnancy, while the levels of relaxin, oxytocin, prolactin, and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) fluctuate. Despite the fact that high levels of estrogen are needed for proper fetal development and high levels of progesterone are essential uterine growth, the increase in both of these hormones, as well as the fluctuations in others, have been associated with causing dental problems such as:
Pregnancy gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that starts during pregnancy when excess plaque accumulates along the gum line and is characterized by gums that are red, tender, swollen, receding, or that bleed easily. Gingivitis can generally be effectively treated with antibiotics and increased oral hygiene, however without treatment it can progress into periodontitis. Periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease that is also the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. On average, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that around 60-75% of pregnant women are affected by pregnancy gingivitis. This condition is especially associated with premature labor and low birth weight.
Another common dental issue to affect pregnant women is tooth decay, which is characterized by enamel stains, tooth pain, and sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet. Tooth decay can be caused by pregnancy cravings for sugary foods, as well as from the enamel erosion caused by morning sickness. Although not as common as pregnancy gingivitis, the CDC notes that tooth decay still affects about 25% of women and has been associated with premature birth.
Finally, pregnancy tumors are raspberry-like tumors that form along the gums in response to excess plaque buildup. These tumors are non-cancerous and generally only cause problems with eating or speaking due to discomfort. They are sometimes referred to as pyogenic granuloma, granuloma of pregnancy, lobular capillary hemangioma, or pregnancy epilis, and they only affect about 10% of pregnant women according to WebMD.