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Good oral health is important for mothers-to-be and their babies

For women with a little one on the way, there’s a lot to think about: getting the nursery ready, deciding on a name, and preparing for the birth. Topping the list, of course, is ensuring mom and baby are both healthy. That includes having optimum oral health.

“Good oral health makes your whole body healthier,” says Dr. Dana Coles, a dentist in Cornwall, PEI.

Three significant problems can occur during pregnancy that mothers-to-be should be aware of and discuss with their dentist. The first is gum disease caused by hormonal changes in a women’s body. Pregnancy gingivitis, as the condition is called, makes gums more sensitive because estrogen and progesterone hormones have increased. The gums will often look red, swollen and inflamed, and the condition, which usually appears in the first trimester, can become worse if the bacteria is left along the gum line. Regular brushing and flossing is important.

As well, says Dr. Kelly Manning, a dentist in Saint John, NB, “a professional dental cleaning prior to pregnancy is advised to remove calculus buildup that can increase irritation of the gum tissue.”

If possible, she adds, routine dental radiographs, or x-rays should also be taken prior to pregnancy to detect any cavities. The usual lead-apron protective shield is used to minimize radiation exposure.

Once pregnant, many women suffer from morning sickness, and this can present issues for the mother’s oral health. When people vomit, acid from the stomach makes its way to the enamel on their teeth. The tendency may be to brush your teeth right away, but avoid this. “Brushing immediately, when the acid is still present, is thought to increase the erosive process, so rinsing with water and then waiting 30 minutes is suggested,” says Dr. Manning. “A two-minute brushing will then help reduce any damage caused by the acid attack.”

The need for emergency care—an aching tooth or a filling that falls out—may also be required during pregnancy. If treatment is necessary, your dentist will take steps to ensure the safest and most comfortable procedure for mother and baby. “We prefer not to take x-rays, but we can do this with a lead apron if it is an emergency,” says Dr. Coles. “We also reassure patients that the local anesthetic used for fillings and crowns is not harmful to the baby.”

Good oral health routines

Ongoing oral health care is important throughout pregnancy for both mother and child. In fact, some recent research has linked a mother’s poor oral health to pre-term and low-weight babies. “When pregnancy occurs, ideally a woman will have good oral health routines that include twice daily brushing with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing once a day and a healthy balanced diet. Also fluoridated drinking water will help maintain a good level of mineral for teeth,” says Dr. Manning.

Regular visits to the dentist are also recommended. Tooth decay, which is caused by plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that builds up on teeth, can increase during pregnancy. The bacteria transform sugar and starch in the mouth to an acid that attacks tooth enamel.

Watching what you eat is important. “Mom’s eating more,” says Dr. Coles. “You need to be conscious of the snacks you choose.” Sugary, sticky treats are not good for teeth. The food is more likely to adhere to the tooth, and the sugar promotes decay. Healthier snacks, including vegetables and nuts, are recommended.

So is water. “Increase the amount of water you drink during pregnancy,” advises Dr. Coles. “This will help with your saliva and reduce the chances of decay.” It’s also helpful to rinse your mouth with water after snacking.

Moms and babies also need more calcium and vitamin D during the development of the fetus. There is a misconception that the baby can draw away or “steal” calcium from the mother’s teeth. This is not the case, says Dr. Coles. “But the baby is growing and needs calcium. Increased calcium is always a good idea for moms and babies.”

Plan a check-up

A routine visit to the dentist during pregnancy is often best scheduled for the second trimester.

“This is the optimal time to perform any non-emergency dental treatment as the risk to the developing fetus is lessened and the discomfort of the mother in a reclined position is minimized,” says Dr. Manning.

Of course, once the little ones arrive, they’ll need to begin their own oral health care journey. It starts within the first year or within six months of that first baby tooth breaking through the skin.

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