Why are my gums bleeding?

Q: My gums bleed when I brush my teeth now that I'm pregnant. Should I be worried?

A: Bleeding gums are common in pregnancy, affecting up to 75 percent of moms-to-be -- but that doesn't mean they're normal. Hormonal changes in pregnancy make women more susceptible to bacterial gingivitis -- swollen, red gums that may bleed when brushed -- caused by bacteria and plaque buildup in the mouth, but some cases may be more serious.

If left unchecked, gingivitis can progress to periodontal (gum) disease, which can destroy the gum fibers and bone that hold your teeth in place. And the risks in pregnancy go beyond tooth loss: Pregnant women with periodontal disease are up to eight times more likely to deliver their babies prematurely. One possible explanation is that a gum infection causes a surge in a hormone that triggers labor.To prevent these problems, keep up good brushing and flossing habits during pregnancy and visit the dentist for your regular dental cleaning and checkup. Even for women who develop gum disease, a basic cleaning in the second trimester can cut their risk for premature delivery in half.

These women may also want to consider a nonsurgical dental procedure, called scaling and root planing. It involves cleaning plaque and tartar from beneath the gumline. --Marguerite Lamb

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