Many women who are pregnant, or who are considering becoming pregnant in the near future, are aware of the safety issues, and many of the specific do’s and don’ts of pregnancy, such as no raw cheeses or deli meats, or no risky physical activities such as skiing or horseback riding. But not nearly as many women are aware of another dangerous risk factor in pregnancy; gingivitis. Pregnancy is a time where many women turn inwardly and look at their health. They do what they can to make their health a priority and take good care of themselves, however, they often forget that their dental health is part of their overall health and can affect their pregnancy.
Gingivitis is one type of periodontal disease. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. It has the potential to become infected, and break down oral tissues that support teeth, including gums, ligaments, and bone. Gingivitis happens over time from plaque deposits collecting on your teeth. Built up plaque can turn into tartar that is then trapped at the base of the tooth and gum line. Gums are irritated and become inflamed by plaque and tartar, which produce toxins and bacteria. The toxins and bacteria will further irritate and infect the gums, as well as cause them to swell and bleed.
There are many factors that can increase your risk of gingivitis such as systemic diseases, misaligned teeth, diabetes that is uncontrolled, bad dental hygiene, and finally, pregnancy. Pregnancy is a risk factor due to the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy. These hormones increase blood flow to gum tissues, causing them to be easily irritated, swollen and to easily bleed. Many pregnant women experience nausea, heartburn and reflux. In order to help combat those unwanted pregnancy symptoms they eat more often, which actually puts their oral health at more risk by placing them at higher risk for plaque build-up and gingivitis.
The hormonal changes in pregnancy can hinder your body’s natural immune response to the bacteria that cause oral infections. Therefore, plaque can build up on your teeth easier, making it more likely to develop into gingivitis. Many women see an increase in gingivitis from pregnancy during their second trimester.
Due to the increased risk for gingivitis during pregnancy, it is imperative that you see a Dental Health Practitioner
at least once during your pregnancy. Your Dental Health Practitioner can assess the seriousness of your gingivitis, and give you advice on keeping your gums and teeth clean and comfortable. Your dentist will also recommend brushing at least twice per day and flossing at least once a day to keep plaque and gingival irritation at a minimum. Eating nutritious foods can also help with good dental health, as can a warm salt water rinse once per day.
Besides your own discomfort and potential loss of bone and teeth, you may be wondering why gingivitis is such a concern during pregnancy. If gingivitis gets out of control and is left to grow, it can become a very serious form of gum disease; periodontitis. Having periodontitis during pregnancy increases the chances of having a preterm birth. Preterm birth can lead to fetal and newborn death, as well as severe and long-lasting birth defects. Periodontitis can also cause low birth weights in babies, even at term gestation. Studies have shown that you are seven times more likely to deliver prematurely (prior to 37 weeks gestation) if you have periodontal disease during pregnancy. That likelihood increases based on the severity of the periodontal disease. This can be a very scary fact for mom-to-be.
You should contact your Dental Health Practitioner if you are noticing increased oral discomfort, bleeding, swelling or bad breath. These can all be signs of worsening gingivitis. Catching these symptoms early and seeing your dentist on a regular basis can help prevent the bad outcomes in pregnancy associated with gingivitis.