Taking care of your teeth and gums is important; during pregnancy, this becomes all the more imperative. Hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy increase the risks of gum disease which can have an effect on your developing baby. Morning sickness can erode tooth enamel.
Dr. Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS speaks with Dreaming of Baby on the effects of pregnancy on dental health and best practices to ensure proper dental hygiene and care.
Daniela: Good morning Dr. Sandra Eleczko, welcome to Dreaming of Baby! Dr. Eleczko will be sharing insight with us today on why dental appointments should remain a priority during pregnancy. We’re very much looking forward to our conversation today, as we believe that this subject is sometimes overlooked with all that pregnancy entails. Before we initiate our discussion, it would be great if you could introduce yourself as well as your experience in this profession.
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: I am a general dentist with a private practice in Livonia, NY. I have been practicing here for 24 years. I attended SUNY Buffalo Dental School and take many continuous education courses with the nation’s experts. I see many families and this includes many pregnant women. I work closely with their OB to provide excellent and safe care during their pregnancy.
How does pregnancy affect dental health?
Daniela: Great, thank you for this introduction Dr. Eleczko. To start with our discussion, what effect does pregnancy have on dental health?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: The hormones are changing during pregnancy and this has an effect on the teeth and gums. There can be more gingival bleeding so it is important to have dental cleaning during pregnancy. There can be changes in diets and food tolerance which will also affect the teeth. Morning sickness can lead to erosion of the tooth enamel. Many women also experience dry mouth. The lack of saliva can put teeth at risk of decay. Putting all this together, there can be an increase in cavities and gum disease so dental care is essential.
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: There is an old wives’ tale that I hear frequently where women say they have lost a tooth for every pregnancy. It is thought that pregnancy robs the teeth of calcium. This is not true. The fetus does need calcium but if there’s not enough calcium in the diet, it is obtained from the bone. Calcium is locked into the hard enamel of the tooth and this doesn’t deteriorate.
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: “There can be an increase in cavities and gum disease so dental care is essential.”
Daniela: And looking at the other side of the equation, can dental issues affect the baby? If yes, in what way would this be so?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: Yes, dental health can affect the baby. In women who have periodontal disease – gums disease – there can be an increase in preterm and low birthweight babies.
Daniela: Can you elaborate a little on periodontal disease, please? What is it and how can a mom-to-be prevent it?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is seen with bleeding gums. This is caused by plaque build-up. Because of hormonal changes, the tissues are even more sensitive to plaque. There is a condition called a pregnancy tumor which is a swollen lump between two teeth. It bleeds very easily and can be stimulated by plaque and calculus left on the teeth. The concern during pregnancy is that the inflammatory response produces factors that can affect the developing baby – this inflammatory reaction may affect the baby.
Daniela: And how can this be treated in a way that would still be safe for the developing baby?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: Treatment is prevention. Regular dental cleanings are important. Some women need more frequent cleanings. Good brushing and flossing are even more important when pregnant. Basically, it’s the same things that your dental hygienist always tells you, but more importantly because of the baby’s development. Dental cleanings and most routine dental procedures are safe during pregnancy.
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: “Treatment is prevention. Regular dental cleanings are important. Some women need more frequent cleanings. Good brushing and flossing are even more important when pregnant.”
Daniela: Once there is pregnancy gingivitis though, is there any way that it could be treated?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: Gingivitis is treated with dental cleanings and good home care. The most important thing is brushing and flossing. Sometimes, during pregnancy, women need to have their teeth cleaned every three or four months instead of six months. These appointments can be managed safely and we pay close attention to positions for a pregnant patient.
Morning sickness and your teeth
Daniela: Thank you for clarifying. For many, the first weeks of pregnancy are characterized by morning sickness. What would be the ideal care regimen during this time? Should moms-to-be be brushing their teeth immediately after a bout of morning sickness?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: It is better to rinse immediately after a bout of morning sickness instead of brushing. After morning sickness, there’s acid in the mouth and this acid can demineralize, or erode the tooth. Brushing immediately can wear away the softer enamel so it is better to rinse and brush a bit later, wait 10 minutes or so. Rinsing with baking soda can be very helpful. Baking soda will decrease the acid and bring the pH back to normal. A tsp of baking soda in a cup of water is recommended. Vomit is very high in acid and this will hurt the tooth enamel. It is natural to want to brush after a bout of morning sickness but this is the worst thing you can do for your teeth.
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: It is natural to want to brush after a bout of morning sickness but this is the worst thing you can do for your teeth.
Daniela: On a final note, what would be your advice to a mom-to-be concerned about her dental health?
Sandra J. Eleczko, DDS: A fluoride rinse can be helpful to protect the teeth. If morning sickness is severe, a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste can be used. Healthy diets low in acids are important. Chewing sugarless gum, especially with xylitol can help a dry mouth. Most of all, relax and look forward to a healthy baby!
Daniela: Great, thank you, Dr. Eleczko, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.