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Dental Care During Pregnancy

Who wants to see the dentist when there are so many other, more exciting things to do during pregnancy? It may be a chore, but tending to your dental health is actually a baby-related activity. Your pregnancy will affect your teeth and gums, just as it's affecting the rest of your body. Looking out for your teeth during these hormone-flushed months will protect your health and your baby's health, not to mention your smile.

Yes, pregnancy affects even your mouth. You're eating more, and those pesky pregnancy hormones will cause your gum tissue to become swollen, softer, and more sensitive. This combination of factors will make you more susceptible to inflammation and bleeding of the gums, a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis. Half of all pregnant women experience this problem. Pregnancy gingivitis is caused by plaque, that sticky, colorless film that builds up on your teeth and causes tooth decay.

Brush and floss your teeth regularly throughout your pregnancy to keep plaque at bay. Use a soft-bristle or ultrasonic toothbrush to remove plaque buildup and reduce bleeding, and rinse out your mouth at least twice a day with an antiseptic mouthwash. In addition, keep your diet rich in foods that contain calcium and vitamin C.

The dangers of periodontal disease. At your checkup your dentist can determine whether you're at risk for periodontal disease, a serious gum infection that can destroy the fibers and supporting bone holding your teeth in place. Expectant moms with periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby who's born too early and too small; preterm births may be provoked by the hormone prostaglandin, which is found in oral bacteria and is responsible for inducing labor.

If your dentist diagnoses periodontal disease, she might recommend that you have a common, nonsurgical procedure called scaling and root planing; this cleans plaque and tartar from deep periodontal pockets and smooths the root to remove bacterial toxins. This procedure may cut your chances of having a preterm birth and alleviate gum swelling and tenderness. It's perfectly safe for you to have a dental cleaning or a local anesthetic at this point in your pregnancy, but tell your dentist about your condition so that she can take any necessary precautions.

Your dental health affects your baby's teeth. Sometime between your 3rd and 6th months of pregnancy, your baby's teeth will begin to develop below the gums. It's crucial for you to eat a diet that has sufficient amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C, and D. Why? To strengthen the baby's teeth. Fluoride is also an important mineral to add to your diet for your baby's healthy tooth development. Practicing good dental habits will help protect your baby's teeth as well as your own. Babies aren't born with the bacteria that cause tooth decay, and studies have shown that mothers are the most likely source for transmitting plaque-building bacteria to their children.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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