Before the miracle of birth, there are the hardships of pregnancy: The fatigue. The back pain. The weight gain. The vomiting.
With all those challenges, I know that oral hygiene is about the last thing on an expectant mother's mind. But let me explain some of the health risks that make it important for pregnant women to be extra vigilant about brushing, flossing and eating right.
Pregnancy can take a toll on a woman's teeth and gums. During pregnancy, a woman's body experiences major hormonal changes. Those changes can affect your mood, your appetite and, yes, your gums. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy increase blood flow throughout the body. This can cause the gums to become inflamed and bleed, a condition known as gingivitis.
These hormonal variations also make it harder for women's bodies to combat bacteria in their mouths. This increases the risk of infection and can result in gum disease.
If left untreated, or if treatment is delayed, gum disease is bad news. Complications include painful abscesses and tooth loss. (Some studies have associated gum disease with premature births, but, as of now, no conclusive link between the two has been shown.)
I started off this column by mentioning one of the most common side-effects of pregnancy - vomiting. Morning sickness does more than leave a bad taste in your mouth - it wreaks havoc on teeth. The acids from your stomach can eat away at enamel and result in tooth decay. To neutralize those acids, rinse your mouth with 8 ounces of water and a teaspoon of baking soda. Wait an hour before brushing your teeth.
Waiting probably won't be hard for a lot of expectant moms since toothbrushing itself can cause pregnant women to feel sick. Still, it's important for your health to brush. In order to minimize the nausea, use a toothbrush with a small head and brush slowly.
OK, so now that I've told you about all the terrible things that can happen to your teeth and gums during pregnancy, let me offer a few tips for preventing those things from happening:
- Brush your teeth and gums at least twice a day: You already know this. Right?
- Floss before you go to bed: Bacteria get more active overnight due to a reduction of salivary flow, so bedtime is the best time to floss.
- Drink water with fluoride: Most unfiltered tap water in this area has fluoride. Bottled water usually doesn't.
- Limit snacking or grazing: Every time we eat, our mouths experience an acid attack that lasts 20 minutes. Give your mouth (and teeth) a break and space out meals.
- Eat low-sugar foods: Deal with those cravings in a healthy way.
- Go to the dentist for teeth cleanings and checkups: Cleanings help reduce plaque buildup.
A lot of these tips are common sense and are the kinds of things everyone should do even when they're not expecting a child. The difference is that following these tips is even more critical during pregnancy. So all you moms-to-be out there, remember that taking care of your teeth and gums will improve your health in the long run even if it takes some effort now.
To find a county or community dental clinic in your area, visit http://ow.ly/c71pO
Ms. Moultrie is the manager of Contra Costa Health Services' Children's Oral Health Program.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.