Behold your expanding belly. Unpredictable skin. Swollen breasts. With all the crazy changes that occur in pregnancy, it would be nice to focus on something about your body that stays constant, like, hmm... the inside of your mouth?
If only you were so lucky. Like it or not, even your gums are hijacked by pregnancy hormones. "Changes in progesterone and estrogen affect the way gum tissue reacts to plaque," says Patricia Meredith, D.D.S., a spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry. Low levels of plaque that might have been inconsequential before you conceived can cause worrisome problems now. In fact, most pregnant women experience some degree of gingivitis, which is marked by red, swollen gums that bleed easily, even with gentle brushing. Untreated, gingivitis can escalate to gum disease -- a big deal because women with this condition are significantly more likely to have a preterm baby, according to many studies, including one published last year in the Journal of Periodontology.
But wonky hormones aren't the only challenge to healthy teeth. The carbs you may rely on to quell nausea (crackers, anyone?) also bathe your teeth in sugars. Morning sickness in the first trimester and heartburn, which often strikes later, increase acids in your mouth, hosting a cocktail party for cavity-causing bacteria.
That's the bad news. But you still have reason to grin. You can keep your teeth and gums in tip-top condition during pregnancy -- if you show them a little extra love.