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Protect Yourself From Pregnancy Gingivitis: Oral Health During Pregnancy

If you received less-than-stellar feedback from your dentist while you were pregnant, you’re not alone. Pregnancy can greatly impact your oral health, and, unfortunately, the reverse is true too. Certain oral conditions such as pregnancy gingivitis, which refers to inflammation of the gums caused by hormonal changes, can pose risks to an unborn baby and its mother. Here is what you should know about the relationship between pregnancy and oral health.

Protect Yourself From Pregnancy Gingivitis: Oral Health During Pregnancy

How can pregnancy impact your oral health?

It isn’t uncommon for women to feel that their oral health took a turn for the worse during pregnancy. A number of studies support this notion, finding that pregnancy can make women more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Though pregnancy alone can’t be blamed for oral problems, the American Pregnancy Association reports that the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy actually do affect oral health. It’s because progesterone and estrogen, perhaps the most common pregnancy-related hormones, can cause saliva to become more acidic than normal. As everyone knows, acid is an arch-enemy of tooth enamel and makes your pearly whites more prone to decay.

Morning sickness can also negatively impact your oral health as stomach acid erodes your essential tooth enamel.

Researchers have found that these hormones might even cause your teeth to become loose, or at least more mobile, as these hormones also tend to relax many of the ligaments in the body — including those responsible for supporting teeth.

One of the most concerning pregnancy–dental relationships is gingivitis, which can have negative outcomes for both your pregnancy, your baby, and your oral health.

What is pregnancy gingivitis?

Gingivitis (gum inflammation) is the early level of periodontal disease. It is considered common, affecting almost half of all adult Americans age 30 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In its early stages, gingivitis symptoms may be so mild that they are not a cause for concern. Advanced gingivitis occurs when bacteria and plaque aren’t effectively removed from your teeth. They grow in number until a plaque overgrowth occurs, resulting in your gums becoming irritated and infected.

If periodontal disease is left untreated, you may need more extensive dental work, such as root canals or tooth extraction.

As previously mentioned, pregnancy hormones contribute to gingivitis. Progesterone and estrogen can both change the makeup of your oral microbiome (the healthy bacterial flora in your mouth), creating a more welcoming environment for bacteria to proliferate. Increased blood flow and blood volume during pregnancy also aid bacterial development. To compound matters, pregnancy can lower your immune response, allowing an oral infection a chance to worsen before your body can fight it off.

According to the CDC, up to 75% of pregnant people will experience pregnancy gingivitis. But that doesn’t mean it is something to take lightly.

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When bacteria and plaque multiply unchecked, the infection can become serious and cause more severe symptoms. Swollen gums during pregnancy that bleed easily, become red, recede from your teeth, or produce halitosis (bad breath) are all signs that you may be heading toward severe pregnancy gingivitis. While these oral symptoms are bad for you, pregnancy gingivitis can also negatively affect your health more broadly – as well as affect your unborn baby’s health.

Is pregnancy gingivitis dangerous?

Pregnancy gingivitis often appears somewhere between the first and second trimester of pregnancy. But the disease reaches its height in the third trimester, and that’s when it can cause issues for you, your birth experience, and your little one’s health. Unchecked pregnancy gingivitis can cause complications such as preeclampsia or low birth weight.

If mild gingivitis is left untreated, periodontitis (severe gum disease) can result, and that is cause for concern. Symptoms of severe gum disease can include:

  • Receding gums, which can contribute tooth loss
  • Bleeding gum tissue
  • Chronic bad breath that doesn’t go away after brushing
  • Gums that are red and swollen
  • Gums that ooze fluid (such as pus)

If you have periodontitis and don’t get it under control, it can damage your gums—and even your jawbone.

What are gingivitis pregnancy complications?

Research has shown that pregnant women with gum disease so severe that it has progressed to periodontitis may be more likely to experience preterm birth and/or deliver a child with a low birth weight. Additionally, some studies found a link between pregnancy periodontitis and preeclampsia, a condition in which the mother’s blood pressure becomes dangerously high. Scientists think fetal complications from gingivitis are due to the fact that the bacteria responsible for gum inflammation can find their way into the bloodstream and cross the placental barrier to the fetus.

Sadly, all of these scenarios can adversely affect newborns. Babies born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) may have a higher likelihood of short-term complications, such as problems with vision, hearing, or breathing. Preterm babies may experience a greater number of lingering health problems, too, such as dental issues, learning difficulties, and behavioral concerns.

How is pregnancy gingivitis diagnosed?

Protecting your health and your baby’s health during pregnancy is best done along with a team of healthcare professionals. High-risk OB/GYN Dr. Rad can work with your dentist to keep track of your oral health and decrease your risk of pregnancy complications.

How Is Pregnancy Gingivitis Diagnosed

Dental care during your pregnancy proceeds much the same as at any other time, but perhaps with greater alertness regarding pregnancy gingivitis. During most dental visits, your dentist will begin by reviewing your symptoms and conducting a physical examination of your mouth, checking your gum line, looking for plaque buildup, gum issues, and anything else that could compromise oral wellness. A finding of severe gingivitis may require X-rays, which can be a frightening thought for expecting moms.

However, both the American Dental Association (ADA) and obstetric providers tend to agree that with proper precautions like shields and other measures to protect your baby from radiation, dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy.

What happens after a diagnosis of pregnancy gingivitis?

Your dentist will work with you to get the inflammation under control. Usually, they begin with dental treatment to remove dental plaque and restore gum health and then prescribe regular at-home maintenance. That may include encouraging you to use floss, brush with an anti-gingivitis toothpaste and soft-bristled toothbrush, and use a prescription fluoride mouthwash. In some cases, oral antibiotics may be recommended to help get bacteria under control.

According to the CDC, up to 75% of pregnant people will experience pregnancy gingivitis. But that doesn’t mean it is something to take lightly.

Prenatal care and dental care go hand in hand. In fact, a good obstetrics provider will usually refer you for routine dental cleanings and check-ups during one of your first prenatal visits. Because pregnancy can make you more susceptible to dental health problems that can cause pregnancy complications, it’s a good idea to maintain good oral hygiene throughout your pregnancy.

Have questions about your pregnancy? Talk to Dr. Rad!

Perinatologist Dr. Rad and his world-class Maternal-Fetal Medicine team at Los Angeles Fetal and Maternal Care Center understand your pregnancy needs before, during, and after birth. Though not certified in dentistry, Dr. Rad and his compassionate team understand the importance of oral care and how it can affect health conditions during pregnancy. He and his team can help you understand your pregnancy, answer your questions, and provide the support needed to safely navigate your pregnancy. We are currently accepting new patients. Call us at (844) 473-6100 or schedule your consultation online.

Call (844) 473-6100 or click here to schedule online