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Pregnancy and Oral Health

By Dr. Martha Dempsey
Pregnancy does not automatically damage your teeth. The old wives’ tale that warns a woman to expect a lost tooth for every baby is false. If the mother’s intake of calcium is inadequate during pregnancy, her bones – not her teeth – will provide the calcium her growing baby needs. The calcium loss is quickly made up after breastfeeding is stopped.

However, the demands of pregnancy can lead to particular dental problems in some women. Common causes of dental health problems during pregnancy can include:
1. Gum problems,
2. Vomiting,
3. Cravings for sugary foods,
4. Retching while brushing teeth.

1. Gum problems
The hormones associated with pregnancy can make some women more susceptible to gum problems including:
– gingivitis (gum inflammation) – this is more likely to occur during the second trimester. Symptoms include swelling of the gums and bleeding, particularly during brushing and flossing
– undiagnosed or untreated periodontal disease -pregnancy can worsen this chronic gum infection, which is caused by untreated gingivitis and can lead to tooth loss.

2. Vomiting
Vomiting associated with morning sickness can coat the teeth in strong stomach acids. Repeated reflux and vomiting can damage tooth enamel and increase the risk if tooth decay.
Suggestions include:
– Do not brush your teeth immediately after vomiting. While the teeth are covered in acid, the vigorous action of the toothbrush may scratch the enamel.
– Rinse your mouth thoroughly with plain tap water.
– Follow up with a fluoridated mouthwash.

3. Retching while brushing teeth
Some pregnant women find that brushing their teeth, particularly the molars, provokes retching. However, you risk tooth decay if you don’t brush regularly.
Suggestions include:
– Use a brush with a small head.
– Slow down your brushing motion.
– Try distractions such as listening to music.

4. Food cravings while pregnant
Some women experience unusual food cravings while they are pregnant. A regular desire for sugary snacks may increase the risk of decay. Try to snack on low sugar foods instead. If nothing but sweetness will satisfy your craving, try to choose healthier options such as fresh fruits. Rinse your mouth with milk or water afterwards.