MANY women place dental care on the back burner while a bun is in the oven. Pregnancy can come with so many aches and pains that women tend to overlook some of the more subtle effects that it has on their bodies; plus, with all those cravings for sweet foods, which pregnant woman is thinking about her teeth? There is even an old saying that a woman can expect to lose a tooth for every child that she bears. But is this true?
“No, this is an old wives' tale. Losing a tooth is not a normal part of pregnancy, and if you do, you most likely already had an existing dental problem,” says dental surgeon Dr Sharon Robinson. “You may, however, feel like your teeth are a bit loose. Progesterone and oestrogen can loosen the ligaments and bones that keep your teeth in place, even if you don't have gum disease.”
She notes, also, that the hormonal changes in pregnancy can affect how a woman's body responds to bacteria.
“Surges in the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone can dilate (expand) the tiny blood vessels in your gums, increasing blood flow. This makes gums more sensitive to the bacteria (and associated toxins) found in the sticky dental plaque that accumulates on teeth everyday,” she says.
The hormonal changes often cause women to develop gum problems (pregnancy gingivitis), tooth erosion, dry mouth, excessive saliva and pregnancy granuloma (small, round, red inflammations in the mouth).
Apart from hormonal changes, there is another culprit that causes women to be more at risk for dental issues in pregnancy — cravings.
“Some women experience unusual food cravings (and food avoidance) while they are pregnant. A regular desire for sugary snacks may increase your risk of tooth decay,” Dr Robinson points out.
“Try to snack on low-sugar foods instead. If nothing but sweetness will satisfy your cravings, try to sometimes choose healthier options such as fresh fruits. Rinse your mouth with water or an alcohol-free mouth rinse or brush your teeth after having sugary snacks.”
Many people think that a woman's teeth become weaker during pregnancy because the baby is 'stealing' her nutrients, including the calcium in her teeth. Dr Robinson explains that this is not so.
“It is a myth that calcium is lost from the mother's teeth during pregnancy. The calcium your baby needs are provided by your diet, not by your teeth. If dietary calcium is inadequate, however, your body will access this mineral from stores in your bones,” she says.
Dr Robinson recommends that a woman has adequate intake of dairy products, green leafy vegetables and any supplements prescribed by her obstetrician to ensure that she and her baby have enough calcium. In addition, she stresses the importance of good hygiene.
“You are less likely to have dental problems during pregnancy if you already have good oral hygiene habits,” Dr Robinson emphasises.
She encourages pregnant women to cut the sugar.
“Even if pregnancy cravings are driving you to seek out sugar, try to go easy on the sweets. While they offer you and your developing baby virtually nothing in the way of nutrients, they're the favourite food of disease-causing oral bacteria. If you find you can't resist sweets, try to eat them only at mealtimes and make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.”
She also prescribes that pregnant women maintain good dental routine.
“Make sure to floss everyday and to brush your teeth at least twice per day. If morning (or afternoon or evening) sickness is a problem, don't brush immediately after throwing up. That's because the enamel on your teeth, which has been temporarily softened by the acid coming up from your stomach, can now be easily removed. Instead, rinse with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water (or even plain water) to neutralise the acid. Wait a full hour before brushing your teeth.”
Finally, Dr Robinson advises that pregnant women get their dental check-ups done.
“Not only are professional cleanings safe during pregnancy, they're highly recommended. So if you haven't seen your dentist and hygienist in a while, now is a great time to make an appointment. And don't forget to tell your dentist the happy news!”