How pregnant women can avoid tooth pain and take better care of their teeth
By Michael Heffernan
The Covid-19 pandemic has created countless health problems around the world but one important issue that is in danger of being overlooked is tooth loss during pregnancy.
In dentistry, we often hear about the phenomenon of mothers “losing a tooth for every baby” and how “the baby took the calcium from my teeth and weakened them!”.
There is also a direct correlation between a mother’s dental health and her child’s dental outcomes in the future, with lower socio-economic groups suffering from higher rates of Early Childhood Caries (ECC). This potentially creates a domino effect in which a lack of NHS dental provision for mothers also damages the child’s dental health, which then has a negative impact on their general health in later life.
In the UK, the NHS provides free dentistry during pregnancy and for the first year after a baby has been born. So there is clearly an awareness of and concern about oral health issues related to pregnancy, including both potential damage to a mother’s teeth and gums as well as the child’s future health.
This article explains exactly what happens to women’s teeth during pregnancy and what expectant mothers can start doing today to take better care of their teeth, even if they are not currently able to visit their dentist.
What happens to a mother’s teeth during pregnancy?
The answer to this question comes in two parts: teeth and gums. (Although there is some overlap between the two as both areas are affected by bacteria, albeit of different types.)
Teeth can start to break down and become demineralised for a number of reasons, including:
Morning sickness – as acid from the stomach causes tooth erosion in a similar way to acid reflux. This can result in a permanent loss of enamel and dentine, increased sensitivity and make the front teeth thin, translucent and brittle at the edges.
Food cravings – even seemingly healthy cravings for lots of fruit or smoothies will actually damage your teeth because of these foods’ highly acidic nature. Frequent snacking, especially of chocolate, biscuits and sugary treats, also contributes to higher incidents of decay.
Changes in the mother’s saliva – which can in turn alter the saliva’s ability to neutralise acids.
Increased bacteria levels – these can go up during pregnancy, putting teeth at greater risk of decay.
Difficulty of maintaining a regular healthy tooth care regime during such a busy and demanding nine months.
Changes in hormones – can cause an increased reaction to plaque left on the teeth, leading to redness and swelling of the gums. There can also be bleeding and, in serious cases, the loss of the bone that holds the teeth in place. This can result in the loosening of teeth and, eventually, tooth loss and gum recession. However, this is not the case for most mothers and is more likely to occur when a pre-existing gum condition is made worse during pregnancy.
How can expectant mothers take better care of their teeth during pregnancy?
Clearly, some of these factors are natural parts of pregnancy and cannot be changed. This makes it all the more important to help change the environmental factors that can be influenced to prevent permanent tooth damage.
Here are six key pieces of advice I would give to all pregnant mothers:
1. Don’t brush for at least an hour after a bout of morning sickness or vomiting.
2. Try to maintain a thorough oral hygiene regime by using an electric toothbrush and interdental brushes.
3. Use a fluoride toothpaste.
4. Try to avoid too much snacking, as this makes it hard for your saliva to neutralise the pH in your mouth before the next acid attack.
5. Visit a dental health professional.
Given that Covid-19 restrictions are making it hard to visit your dentist and hygienist, I would strongly recommend supplementing your daily tooth care routine by using a Xylitol-based gum or mint, such as our own Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints, which are designed to neutralise the acid in your mouth and remineralise your teeth throughout the day. (There have been many studies over the years to show that Xylitol, which is a naturally occurring sweetener, can reduce the risk of tooth decay. And it is recommended for mothers and children by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and widely used in Scandinavia.)
Tooth care during pregnancy is a real and important issue. It is also one that has been made more complicated – like so much of our lives – by Covid-19. But by following this advice and adopting a proactive daily regime, it is possible to make strong teeth and gums a part of every happy, healthy pregnancy.