Congratulations! Whether you are already pregnant or trying to get pregnant, this is an exciting time for you and your growing family. It can also be a time filled with anxiety, forgetfulness, ever-shifting moods, and a variety of bodily changes. I know this because as I type these very words, I can feel my first child kicking at me from within my belly and I reflect on how crazy and amazing the past 8 months (longer if you count the months of trying!) have been for me, my husband, and my clinical team here at the practice.
As a dentist, I have always understood the importance of maintaining a healthy smile during pregnancy. As a pregnant dentist, I understand that there is so much more to it than brushing and flossing as usual. I understand that fatigue, nausea, aversions, and even “pregnancy brain” can make everyday tasks seem like climbing Mt. Everest!
Still, I must stand firm on the importance of being even more diligent about my oral care while my little guy has continued to grow week after week -- depending on me to make sure I am healthy so he is healthy too. This blog post is meant to educate you on what to expect dentally during pregnancy and bring some humor to a very clinical time in your life. If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding your own oral health during your unique pregnancy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703.406.8600 to schedule an evaluation.
Oral Health & Trying To Get Pregnant
I know, first hand, that trying to get pregnant isn’t always as simple as getting the deed done. The moment you decide that you are ready (or ready-ish) to take that plunge into parenthood (or trying for another child), you are likely faced with a laundry list of “Do’s and Don’ts.” Do take your prenatal vitamin. Don’t drink too much caffeine. Do drink plenty of water. Don’t smoke. Do keep exercising. Don’t use too many pesticides. And the list can go on for days depending on who you are talking to.
I wish I could tell you that I was going to make life simpler for you, but the truth is that I’m going to be adding yet another item to your “Do” list: Do visit your dentist and keep your gums healthy.
A study published in 2011 by Roger Hart, a Professor of Reproductive Medicine and the Medical Director of Fertility Specialists at the University of Western Australia (Perth), suggests that gum disease may have a negative impact on a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. Mr. Hart found that women with active and untreated gum disease took an average of two months longer to get pregnant than those who were not diagnosed with gum disease. Non-Caucasian women were found to be even more prone to this phenomenon and were more likely to take over 12 months to conceive. I will discuss why this may occur in the later section entitled “gum disease and your pregnancy.”
The bottom line: there are so many factors that can affect your ability to conceive. Treating gum disease and maintaining gum health is relatively easy in the grand scheme of things. And paying attention to your oral health now can help reduce gum disease related risks during pregnancy.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve visited your dentist or dental hygienist, give us a call at 703.406.8600 so we can evaluate your overall oral health and make recommendations based on your individual needs.
Control Gum Disease Before It Controls Your Pregnancy
Just as gum disease can negatively impact your ability to become pregnant, there is evidence that suggests that it may increase your risk for a preterm birth or low birth weight.
As you may already know, the goal is to keep that bun in your oven cooking for as much of the 40-42 week gestation process as possible. Thanks to modern advances in medicine, babies delivered as early as 28 weeks have been able to live long, fruitful lives -- but not without extreme interventions and countless hours of worry. Babies with a low birth weight (under 5lb 8oz) at full term, have similar risks as those born before 37 weeks.
According to the Boston Children’s Hospital website (link), premature and low birth weight babies are at greater risk of the following:
low oxygen levels at birth
inability to maintain body temperature
difficulty feeding and gaining weight
breathing problems, such as respiratory distress syndrome (a respiratory disease of prematurity caused by immature lungs)
neurologic problems, such as intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding inside the brain)
gastrointestinal problems such as necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious disease of the intestine common in premature babies)
Just like you, I am doing everything I can to make sure I am properly cared for so that my growing baby is nourished and protected inside my ever-expanding mid-section. No matter how uncomfortable sleep has become or how quickly winded I get walking up a flight of stairs, my goal has been to keep my baby warm and safe where he is until at least 37 weeks when I know he is likely to be able to breath on his own. (Now at 39 weeks, I'm ready to welcome him into my arms and out of my body!) With that said, I would have done anything to minimize any risks associated with premature birth or low birth weight -- including keeping my teeth and gums healthy.
Though it is not exactly known why gum disease has negative effects on fertility and pregnancy, studies suggest a strong link between the bacteria and inflammation associated with gum disease. This is why it is so important to keep bacteria levels at bay during this transformative stage in your life. If you are diagnosed with gum disease before or during pregnancy, treatment is totally safe for you and your baby.
Healthy Smile Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Visit your dentist before and/or during your pregnancy to determine your risk for gum disease and to treat cavities that may lead to infection over the next 9 months.
Prevent gum disease by brushing 2-3x/day and flossing dailyPrevent gum disease by brushing 2-3x/day and flossing daily
Call your dentist if you notice bleeding or swelling of your gums during pregnancy
Consider getting your teeth cleaned more often during pregnancy to reduce bacteria levels and inflammation -- some dental plans will even cover the extra visit for pregnant women!
If you suspect you have cavities, gum disease, or dental infection during your pregnancy, contact your dentist as soon as possible. In the presence of pain or suspected infection, it is safe and recommended to take dental x-rays and perform necessary treatment in order to protect you and your forming baby.