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Spring Into Oral Health! Essential Tips for Expecting Mothers.

As the flowers bloom and the birds begin chirping, spring brings with it a sense of renewal and rejuvenation. It's also a perfect time for us all to renew our focus on our oral health, especially expecting mothers who may have even more specific dental needs.

With Mother's Day just around the corner, here are some essential oral health tips specifically for women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.

What to Expect During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but it can also bring about many changes in overall health, including oral health. Here are a few key changes expecting mothers should anticipate:

  • Hormonal Changes: During pregnancy, a mother's body undergoes significant hormonal changes to support the growth and development of the fetus. These hormonal fluctuations can have various effects on different systems in the body, including oral health. Fluctuating hormones, particularly an increase in estrogen and progesterone which typically peak during the second trimester (months 3-6), can increase the risk of developing gum disease (gingivitis). Gingivitis is characterized by gum tissue that's red (versus light pink), swollen (versus firm) and more tender than usual. Bleeding may also occur more than usual during flossing and brushing.

  • Increased Bleeding: Increased blood flow in the body can lead to increased blood flow in the mouth, including in gum tissue. This can make gum tissue more prone to inflammation and bleeding, and is part of the reason for the increase in gum swelling and tenderness experienced by many pregnant women.

  • Morning Sickness: Nausea and vomiting, commonly experienced during the first trimester (months 1-3), can expose teeth to stomach acid, leading to enamel erosion and increased susceptibility to sensitivity and even tooth decay. Although this may seem counterintuitive, pregnant women should avoid brushing their teeth for at least 30 minutes after vomiting. This is because the mouth becomes very acidic immediately after vomiting, and it takes around 30 minutes for the pH in the mouth to neutralize. Brushing too soon is akin to rubbing battery acid all over the teeth, which over time can lead to enamel erosion. Instead of brushing, consider rinsing with water or a fluoride mouth rinse immediately after vomiting to safely clean the mouth and neutralize its pH.

  • Impact on Saliva Production: Some women may experience dry mouth (xerostomia), while others may experience more-than-usual saliva flow. Believe it or not, excess saliva flow can actually be beneficial since saliva washes over our teeth and helps to keep them cleaner and less likely to accumulate food and plaque bacteria. On the other hand, dry mouth is typically quite concerning, since a lack of saliva means teeth are more susceptible to accumulation of food and plaque bacteria, and therefore more at risk for tooth decay. Consider the following if experiencing a mouth that's dry or dryer than usual:

    • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help keep the mouth moist and rinse away food particles and bacteria. Carry a water bottle with plain water and sip frequently throughout the day, especially during and after snacks and meals.

    • Chew Sugar-Free Gum or Suck On Sugar-Free Candy: Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy can trick your brain into thinking it's snack or meal time, which can increase saliva flow and provide at least temporary relief from dry mouth. Look for products that contain xylitol, a sugar alcohol commonly used as a sugar substitute. Xylitol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and is often produced commercially from birch bark or corn cobs. It has a sweet flavor similar to sugar, but with fewer cavities and a lower glycemic index. One of it's main benefits is that it can't be fermented by bacteria in the mouth like real sugar can. In fact, it's actually been shown to inhibit the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. So consumption of xylitol can help reduce formation of plaque bacteria and therefore reduce the risk of developing tooth decay. As beneficial as xylitol can be, it should only be consumed in moderation. Excess consumption of xylitol can result in digestive issues such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. While safe for human consumption, Xylitol has also been shown to be harmful to animals, particularly dogs, so make sure to keep it away from your furry friends.

    • Use Saliva Substitutes: Over-the-counter saliva substitutes, such as mouth sprays or artificial saliva products, can help lubricate the mouth and provide relief from dryness. These products work by mimicking the natural properties of saliva and can be used as needed throughout the day.

    • Limit Caffeine and Spicy Foods: Caffeine and spicy foods can sometimes worsen dry mouth symptoms. Consider reducing your intake of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee and certain teas, as well as spicy foods that may irritate the mouth.

    • Use a Humidifier: Using a humidifier in your home, especially in your bedroom at night, can help add moisture to the air and prevent dryness of the mouth and throat while sleeping. Choose a humidifier with a large enough capacity for the room size, and clean it regularly to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.

    • Talk to Your Primary Care Physician or OBGYN: If none of the above seem to help improve your dry mouth, or if dry mouth is accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or a persistent sore throat, it's important to consult a healthcare provider right away. Dry mouth, while typically not overly concerning during pregnancy, can sometimes be a sign of other underling medical conditions that may require further evaluation and treatment.

  • Increased Risk of Tooth Decay: Cravings for sugary snacks and changes in dietary habits can contribute to a higher risk of tooth decay during pregnancy. Maintaining a balanced diet, particularly one that is lower in added sugars, is crucial for both maternal and fetal health.

  • Pregnancy Tumors: Also known as pyogenic granulomas, pregnancy tumors are benign, small, red swellings of the gums that some pregnant women may experience. These growths typically occur in the second trimester (months 3-6) and are believed to be a response by the body to hormonal changes and increased blood flow in the gums. While these tumors are benign and usually harmless, they can cause discomfort and may bleed easily. Pregnancy tumors typically go away on their own after childbirth. However, if they persist and/or continue to cause discomfort or bleeding, consult a dentist or healthcare provider for further evaluation and to discuss treatment options, which may include surgical removal.

Oral Health Tips for Expecting Mothers

To ensure optimal oral health throughout pregnancy, consider the following tips:

  • Visit The Dentist Before Becoming Pregnant: It's very important to go into pregnancy with a body and mouth that are as healthy as possible. Visiting the dentist before becoming pregnant will allow your dentist the time they need to assess your overall oral health and alert you to any dental concerns that should be addressed before becoming pregnant. Bacteria in the mouth, whether from a small cavity, an infected tooth, gum or periodontal disease, can enter the bloodstream and affect the health of both the mother and the developing fetus. So every effort should be made to ensure that the mouth is free from any disease as early as possible, and ideally before becoming pregnant. In the event that dental treatment does need to happen during the course of pregnancy, it's recommended to take place during the second trimester (months 3-6) only. Elective dental treatment is typically avoided during the first trimester (months 1-3) due to the development of the fetus, and during the third trimester (months 6-9) due to the larger size of the fetus, which can make it more uncomfortable for a mother to lie back, and to do so for longer periods of time; may compress a mother's blood vessels and decrease blood flow to the fetus, affecting fetal oxygenation; and may increase the risk of pre-term labor. While the use of local anesthesia for dental procedures is generally considered safe during pregnancy, it's important to minimize fetal exposure to all drugs/medications as much as possible. If local anesthesia must be provided, your dentist may need to use a different type and a smaller dose, meaning pain management may not be as effective or as long-lasting.

  • Attend Regular Dental Checkups: Schedule a dental appointment as soon as you learn about your pregnancy or if you're planning to conceive. Routine cleanings and exams can help prevent and address any oral health issues before they escalate.

  • Address Dental Concerns Promptly: Don't ignore dental problems during pregnancy. If you experience any toothaches, gum swelling, or other oral health issues, consult your dentist promptly to receive appropriate treatment.

  • Practice Good Oral Hygiene: Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and floss regularly to remove plaque and bacteria that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. Using an antimicrobial mouthwash may also help control oral bacteria.

  • Maintain a Nutritious Diet: Opt for nutritious foods rich in vitamins and minerals essential for both maternal and fetal health. Limit sugary snacks and beverages to reduce the risk of cavities and enamel erosion.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth hydrated and to help rinse away food particles and bacteria.

Oral Health Tips for Mothers After Childbirth

The journey through pregnancy can often seem quite long. While there are many considerations that need to be taken during pregnancy for the best health of the mother and her fetus, it's just as important for new mothers to continue taking the best possible care of their oral and overall health even after childbirth. Here are a few tips to do just that:

  • Continue with regular dental checkups and address dental concerns as early as possible

  • Continue practicing good oral hygiene, including brushing at least 2x/day and flossing at least 1x/day to help reduce the risk of tooth decay and to help gum tissue heal from the effects of pregnancy

  • Consider wearing a nightguard when sleeping to help prevent the stress of being a new mother from being taken out on your teeth

  • Avoid sharing utensils or pacifiers or saliva with newborns, as doing so can transmit bacteria from a mother's mouth to theirs, increasing the risk of them developing dental problems such as cavities, gum disease and periodontal disease

As you embrace the joys of motherhood, don't overlook the importance of maintaining good oral health. By prioritizing regular dental care, practicing proper oral hygiene, and making healthy lifestyle choices, expecting mothers can safeguard their smiles and contribute to a happy, healthy pregnancy. This Mother's Day, celebrate the gift of motherhood by nurturing yourself and your oral health journey.

Schedule a dental visit today, and we'll help you spring into your healthiest and most radiant smile!


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