Pregnancy is a time of major change for a woman’s body. Many things influence the health of an unborn baby, and a lot of women don’t realize their oral health can directly affect a little one in the developmental stages.
With prenatal appointments and ultrasounds to schedule, dental checkups are easy to overlook. However, they’re extremely important.
Some health-insurance companies will even cover an extra cleaning during pregnancy to ensure the expectant mother’s oral health.
Dental hygienist Jonathan Paulus at Howard Family Dental in Hinesville said that many pregnant women suffer from morning sickness, which can coat their mouths in gastric acids, thus increasing the risk of tooth decay. Moms-to-be also are more likely to develop gingivitis due to an exaggerated hormonal response to plaque buildup, he said.
Gum diseases such as pregnancy gingivitis can increase fluids in the body and induce early labor. A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study done in collaboration with Duke University scientists show that there is a direct connection between mothers with gum disease and premature, underweight births.
The study also suggests that gum disease may be responsible for up to 18 percent of pre-term deliveries and its effect appears to be as strong as smoking or alcohol abuse.
Dr. Steven Offenbacher, professor at the UNC School of Denistry and Director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases said that babies developing in women’s wombs are being adversely affected by germs growing in the mother’s mouth and that scientists find antibodies to specific organisms in placental blood at the time of delivery.
Periodontal disease, an infection in the gum tissue, can transmit bacteria and byproducts into the blood stream, according to Paulus.
“Those byproducts can cause increases in the hormones that cause contractions,” Paulus said, “making it seven times more likely to have a premature or low-birth-weight baby.”
According to Paulus, it is important to schedule regular dental checkups during pregnancy and before conception.
Additionally, pregnant women should talk with their obstetricians regarding any individual needs or treatment issues she may encounter when visiting a dentist.