Taking care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy
Your teeth and mouth can be overlooked during pregnancy when most of your medical attention is focused elsewhere. But oral health plays a significant role in maintaining the health of you, the mother, and your bub in your belly.
The platform for healthy teeth and gums begins early in life. Mothers-to-be should ideally have a regular program of preventive dental care before starting a family.
A healthy mouth, free from tooth decay or gum disease ensures mum and baby have the best chance of a trouble-free pregnancy.
If you’re planning to start a family, it’s important you visit your dentist to check that all is well. You’ll probably have your teeth x-rayed and cleaned and your dentist will let you know if any treatment needs to be done.
And have you ever heard the saying “You lose a tooth for every baby”? This is actually a complete myth: good oral hygiene and a low sugar diet together with guidance from your dentist can help prevent dental problems.
Is dental treatment during pregnancy safe?
It’s natural to be concerned with any treatment which might affect your unborn bub. But there is a greater risk of complications if treatment for tooth decay or infections is delayed or avoided.
Untreated tooth decay or gum problems can lead to infections which may be severe and pose a more serious risk to your baby. Local anaesthetics (injections in the mouth before some dental treatments) are safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so treatment should not be avoided for this reason.
Another common myth is that x-rays cannot be taken during pregnancy. While it’s better to take routine x-rays before the pregnancy, latest advice from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency states that there’s no reason to avoid x-rays during pregnancy.
A lead apron may be used to cover your chest and stomach during the x-ray. Failure to detect and properly treat a dental problem can create a greater risk than the x-ray itself. What medications to take during pregnancy is another common concern women understandably raise with their GP or dentist. Common antibiotics like amoxycillin and pain killers such as paracetamol are Category A and safe to take during pregnancy.
Medications in other categories should be used more selectively depending on individual circumstances and perhaps prescribed in consultation with your doctor. Medications taken by the mother may be detected in breast milk in small quantities. Therefore, prescribing medications for a breastfeeding mother should only be done when appropriate.
While dental treatment can be performed at any stage during pregnancy, it’s usually most comfortable for the mother during the second trimester (third, fourth and fifth months). Morning sickness, nausea and mouth sensitivity are more common in the first trimester and the increased size of the baby during the third trimester can make laying back in a dental chair uncomfortable. Dental appointments should be kept as short as possible during your whole pregnancy.
There are some dental conditions which occur more often during pregnancy:
Food Cravings - eating lots of sugary foods during pregnancy may increase your risk of developing tooth decay. Try to snack on low sugar foods such as fresh fruit, cheese, crackers or plain yoghurt. If you do eat sugary snacks or drinks, rinse with water (preferably tap water as it contains fluoride which protects teeth) and brush your teeth twice a day. But it’s not just eating the sugar that hurts your teeth, it’s also how often you indulge. A lot of snacking can increase your risk of tooth decay if you have a few different sugary foods spread across the day like flavoured yoghurt at breakfast, a slice of cake for morning tea and ice cream for dessert. If you must indulge, for your mouth’s sake it’s far better to limit it to one a day.
Gum Disease - Gingivitis, or inflammation and redness of the gums, is a common condition. During pregnancy, hormonal changes take place which make the gums more sensitive to irritation from the germs and bacteria in the mouth. This can sometimes make the gums very red and swollen and they may bleed when brushing and flossing. If you experience these problems, make sure you keep your teeth and gums clean by carefully brushing twice a day, using floss once a day and seeing your dentist.
Morning sickness - if you experience vomiting and reflux, stomach acids can weaken the tooth enamel which over time can lead to tooth erosion or wearing away of the tooth’s surface. This damage can be minimised by not brushing the teeth straight away. Instead rinse with water and then wait about an hour before brushing. In the meantime, to make the mouth feel fresher, you can rub a little toothpaste on the teeth using your finger or use an alcohol-free mouthwash. It’s safe to leave the toothpaste on the teeth as this will give them longer protection.
Sometimes the back of the mouth becomes quite sensitive to touch, resulting in gagging when brushing. If this occurs, try changing the flavour of your fluoride toothpaste, using a toothbrush with a smaller head, or closing your eyes and using a very gentle, slow tooth brushing technique.
Caring for your child’s oral health
And one final important piece of advice. The recommended age for the first dental visit for your new baby is by 12 months of age. Good dental habits can’t start early enough.
Check out The Australian Dental Association's videos on caring for young children’s teeth and soothing teething discomfort here: www.teeth.org.au/babies-and-toddlers.
Article supplied by Australian Dental Association.
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