How Pregnancy Can Affect Your Oral Health
I have a secret to share with you…I (the dentist) have had a cavity!
I was thirty years old and just gave birth to my first daughter. I went to my dad for my cleaning, and a routine X-ray gave me the bad news. I had a pretty normal pregnancy, including the joys of throwing up almost on a daily basis, especially in my first trimester. The sight of any vegetable, fruit or healthy grain made my stomach turn.
Despite my best efforts to eat healthily during my pregnancy (I always took a prenatal vitamin every day…that was non-negotiable!) I did give in to a carbohydrate heavy diet for the nine months. French fries and doughnuts are usually a no-no in my day to day menu but became my staple during pregnancy.
I was part of the “fluoride generation” (with a father as a dentist FYI) so I thought I was invincible. Here are some explanations as to how your oral health is affected by pregnancy…and why my confidence was my Achilles heal!
Nausea, Heartburn and Vomiting During Pregnancy.
If you don’t experience a higher frequency of these three things during your pregnancy, then you are in the minority (and I’m jealous!). Most of us will have repeated episodes of nausea or increased heartburn after meals. Whether from heartburn or vomiting, the introduction of stomach acids into the oral cavity can weaken enamel, the outer protective layer of your teeth, just like a localized bacteria.
Weakened enamel increases the likelihood of sensitivity and decay. Brushing your teeth right after vomiting can increase the wear on already weakened enamel. Rinse your mouth with water and wait 30 min to brush your teeth with regular toothpaste. This lets your saliva buffer the acids the are introduced into the mouth and remineralize the enamel. Toothpaste, flossing, and regular oral hygiene routines are of paramount importance here…but I’ll get to that.
Towards the end of your first trimester and throughout the rest of your pregnancy, you may notice that your gums are more susceptible to bleeding during brushing and can appear puffy. This is called pregnancy gingivitis. Pregnancy causes hormonal changes that make gums more inflamed in response to bacterial plaque. Continuing to brush (despite this increased bleeding) with a regular fluoridated toothpaste and flossing your teeth nightly before bed will help keep your gums healthy and free of plaque and bacteria.
Dental Visits During Pregnancy
Please let your dentist or dental hygienist know if you are pregnant, even if your in-laws don’t know yet! Dental treatment is tailored specifically to each individual and there are changes we make in treating a pregnant patient. First, unless there is a particular problem or a dental emergency, we don’t routinely take x-rays for a patient that is expecting. We also try to limit any elective dental work that could otherwise wait until after the patient delivers. Regular dental appointments are important before pregnancy to ensure there aren’t any unresolved dental issues that may progress into infections during pregnancy. When pregnant, it is best to have a regular dental check-up and cleaning in your second trimester. Your dentist can remove plaque and tartar that brushing a flossing alone can’t.
Diet During Pregnancy
Pickles…ice cream…sauerkraut??? There’s no doubt that our pregnancy cravings can be unusual. But we have to be mindful that the choices we make can increase the risk of dental decay. High carbohydrate foods such as bread that we would normally not associate with cavity risk can result in an increased acidic environment. Make healthy choices and give into your cravings with moderation. Fluoridated city/tap water is key and should be your main source of hydration during pregnancy. Juices and pop drinks are the enemies.