Poor oral health during pregnancy has been reported on several times, but as a Dentist I am still amazed at how many expectant mother’s don’t realize it’s importance. Many times when I meet a pregnant patient for the first time they have been referred to me by their obstetrician who has possibly looked at their mouth and realized they needed dental work.
A recent poll of pregnant women revealed some factors as to why pregnant women don’t go to the dentist. First many and I would say most believe that poor oral health is “normal” during pregnancy. Now it is true that maintaining good oral health might be a little more difficult due to frequent hormone changes, illness, vomiting, and on occasions even being bed ridden. All of these factors might make it difficult to have good oral health, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Good oral hygiene should be as high on the list as proper nutrition when a mother is carrying a baby.
Second, well this is pretty common for patients in general, is that they fear certain aspects of dentistry while pregnant. This could could be anything from a cleaning to a tooth extraction, but having a fear of the dentist whether pregnant or not is very common. Some aspects of dentistry can be difficult while pregnant, such as sitting in the dental chair for extended periods of time or certain tastes might trigger a gag reflex or even nausea.
Third and the last reason why pregnant women might avoid the dentist is because the believe that the fetus might be harmed by dental treatment. This belief is a valid concern as there are things that can potential be dangerous to both the baby and mother, but as long as the patient has disclosed the fact that they are pregnant every licensed dentist is trained to take the necessary precautions. Somethings to avoid while pregnant and seeking dental treatment should always be nitrous oxide gas (laughing gas) and it is a good idea to avoid dental x-rays, but generally only during the first trimester. Once the first trimester is over the dental team will take all the necessary precautions to reduce the x-ray exposure of the fetus to minimized any risk.
So what is the most important objective in planning the dental care of pregnant women? It is to establish a healthy oral environment through education, regular dental check ups, and optimal at home oral hygiene. Education should include everything from brushing and flossing to the proper nutrition for both the expectant mother as well as the baby. Regular dental check ups should and are best scheduled during the 2nd trimester however urgent dental care should be sought for acute dental problems like toothaches. Every mother whether pregnant or not needs to establish an at home oral hygiene regimen that includes flossing daily, brushing twice daily, and even adding or using mouthwash. All of these things will aid both mother and baby to be as healthy as they can potential be.
It is very sad but only 22 to 34% of women will actually seek dental care while pregnant. This is extremely alarming since we know the risks of poor oral health while pregnant like preterm babies with low birth weights, increased risk of premature delivery, severe gum disease, benign pregnancy tumors, and an increased risk for dental caries. If you or someone you know is pregnant, make it a goal today to have great oral health. Speak with your doctor about good oral hygiene practices and seek guidance in proper nutrition. The great news is that all the risks presented are avoidable and even reversible.