by Dr. Alex Mayes, Pediatric Dentist and mom of 1
Oral Health During Pregnancy
There are so many oh-so-glamorous changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy that we can blame on our sweet babies… stretch marks, cellulite, dark circles under our eyes, acne, non-existent ankles, achy joints… The list could go on and on! One change that we, unfortunately, cannot blame on our babies is cavities. This one is on you, mama. Of course, there is the old wives’ tale that you will “lose a tooth for every baby” or that the baby will “suck the calcium out of your teeth.” Not true. Thank goodness!
I’m not saying that oral health does not suffer during pregnancy (like pretty much every other body part), but I am saying that the majority of these issues are preventable. There has to be some sort of basis to these wives’ tales, and I’ve also seen several women on social media mom groups in a panic saying things like “I have never had a cavity in my life! How is it possible that I now have 6?!”
So what gives? These are some changes that take place during pregnancy that could contribute to cavities or a decline in your oral health:
1) Morning sickness/ vomiting: This affects dental health on many different levels. And really, who feels like brushing their teeth when you feel THAT queasy? I have also had friends tell me they couldn’t even look at their toothbrush without vomiting in their first trimester. Obviously, this poses an obstacle for optimal oral hygiene and the 2-minute brushing sessions twice a day can take a hit. For those unfortunate mamas who are plagued with frequent vomiting, there is an increased risk of dental issues because of the erosive nature of stomach acid. The tendency after vomiting is to want to brush your teeth to get the taste out of your mouth. Fight this urge if at all possible to prevent further damage to your enamel.
* Try this helpful trick instead: Mix a cup of water with a teaspoon of baking soda. Swish and spit. Avoid brushing for an hour. This baking soda with help neutralize the stomach acid and return your mouth to a more normal pH instead of immediately introducing an abrasive toothbrush/ toothpaste to the already compromised enamel.
2) Heartburn/ reflux: Let’s be honest, we all get a little gassier during this *beautiful* time, and that includes more burping and reflux. Similar to morning sickness and increased vomiting, this can cause the pH of your mouth to stay a little too acidic to maintain good enamel health/ strength. Good oral hygiene is critical if you are fighting this issue so that the increased acid in your mouth is not combined with plaque. Also, avoid acidic drinks like lemonade, sodas, and sports drinks that will compound the problem and potentially worsen your reflux.
* Helpful hints: Try chewing sugar-free chewing gum throughout the day (especially a xylitol gum) to help clear plaque and promote salivary flow to buffer the increased acid. And don’t forget to drink lots of water! Talk to your OB about a daily OTC acid reducer that may be safe to take during your pregnancy.
3) Diet changes: Okay, this might be a “do as I say, not as I do” piece of advice (as I sit here in a t-shirt that says “The baby made me eat it” haha). I feel like people have asked me if I’ve had any pregnancy cravings. I’m not sure how to differentiate between actual cravings and me just allowing myself to eat all the things I would not normally eat– biscuits and gravy, ice cream, ALL the Easter candy, the list goes on! I think many women are with me on that and allow this to be a time to be a little more indulgent and with more frequent snacking, whether it be out of necessity to fight morning sickness or an “eating for two” mentality. My guilty pleasure this pregnancy has been JUICE (the sweeter, the better) and (caffeine-free) SODA! Aah! A dentist’s nightmare! This again is a factor that we can control… as much as we don’t really want to. Moderation is key, as they say.
* Helpful hints: Try carbonated water to satisfy that craving. Limit yourself to sweetened drinks once a day and with a meal so that you are not constantly sipping on them throughout the day. For example, I always say to patients I would rather them chug two sports drinks at the end of a practice versus drinking just one over a two-hour practice. The frequency of sugar can be more detrimental than the quantity. If you are also snacking frequently, limit refined carbs and choose options that don’t promote tooth decay like cheese, carrots, or apples for example. Talk to your OB about other tips for maintaining a balanced diet.
4) Changes in the gums: I have had friends tell me that their first sign of pregnancy was bleeding gums. (Now, if you’re not a regular flosser and you get some bleeding when flossing for the first time in a while, don’t be running out to buy a pregnancy test!) Pregnancy hormones have been proven to change the bacteria in your mouth and increase gingivitis and periodontal problems. Sometimes bleeding/ sore gums will deter people from brushing well or flossing regularly. This just leads to a snowball effect allowing the bad bacteria in the gums to get worse and cause even more inflammation. Optimal hygiene is critical during this time to keep you and your baby healthy.
* Helpful hints: Maintain your regular dentist visits. The best time for dental care during your pregnancy is in the 2nd trimester. Your dentist will know what things to avoid in order to keep you and your baby safe.
With so much on our plate during pregnancy– eat well (but eat this and not that), exercise regularly (but not too much), get enough sleep (but on your side only), etc. etc. etc.– it’s easy to let some things, like oral health, go by the wayside. For this reason, and the reasons discussed above, you may expect some declining grades on your report card from the dentist at your next visit. Keep in mind that your oral health affects your overall health, and therefore your growing sweet baby. It will be worth the small changes and the few extra minutes of daily brushing and flossing to save you some extra hours in the dental chair in the future!
Dr. Alex Mayes Young is a board-certified pediatric dentist practicing in Lexington, KY. She made the decision to become a dentist and follow in her father’s footsteps at the age of seven when she began treating her stuffed animals in her playroom. Planning to return to her Kentucky roots for dental school, Dr. Alex enjoyed exploring the city of New Orleans for her undergraduate experience at Tulane University where she received her BA in Art History. Always loving the mixture of art and science that dentistry had to offer, she was honored to get her Doctorate of Dental Medicine at the University of Kentucky, College of Dentistry.
Read more from Dr. Alex Mayes on Thumb Sucking