The one pregnancy health problem that is most often overlooked

Who knew pregnancy could do a whole lot of damage to your teeth or that gum problems could negatively affect your pregnancy?

Dental health just isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you start trying for a baby or even once you conceive. For me, visiting a dentist was one of those things I put on hold while I focused on what I thought were more relevant health aspects during my path to conception and then in pregnancy.

How wrong I was! Here’s why caring for teeth during pregnancy is so important.

Impact of pregnancy hormones

When you consider your blood volume doubles during pregnancy, it makes sense this also changes the blood supply to your gums. The University of Adelaide explains hormones are behind this change and, if plaque is present in the mouth, it can put you at an increased risk of gum disease.

This can take the form of pregnancy gingivitis or inflammation of the gums, causing gums to swell and bleed. If untreated, it could develop into periodontal disease, increasing your risk of losing teeth and even going into labour early. Better Health explains “up to 18 out of every 100 premature births may be triggered by periodontal disease, which is a chronic infection of the gums”.

The best defence is regular brushing with a soft toothbrush and, at the first signs of any problems, making a visit to your dentist for a thorough clean.

Tip for those undergoing IVF…

Go to your dentist now. I completed an unsuccessful IVF cycle last year. Not only did I endure the pain of hearing I was not pregnant, but I was in physical agony due to the hormones I was taking causing my gums to be inflamed and infected. All four of my wisdom teeth had to be removed and I was put on back-to-back courses of antibiotics.

Only after speaking to my fertility specialist and dentist did I come to realise my teeth issues could very well have thwarted any chance of that IVF cycle I just did being successful. I took a break from IVF, got my teeth sorted and had success with the next IVF cycle – bub is due in less than six weeks.

Morning sickness can take a toll

Regular vomiting can damage tooth enamel and cause decay due to its acidic nature.

Mater Mothers’ Hospital recommends rinsing your mouth with water or fluoridated mouthwash and smearing toothpaste over your teeth with your finger then rinsing after each bout of vomiting. It warns against brushing in the first half hour after being sick as gastric acids soften the enamel and leave teeth vulnerable to damage.

Having trouble brushing without retching?

I cannot get on with my day or fall asleep at night until I have brushed my teeth. I hate that furry feeling in my mouth, yet during the first trimester of my current pregnancy, I found it impossible not to gag at every attempt. The temptation to skip many a brushing session was strong and it would have been all too easy to be less thorough. But, this would just increase the chances of tooth decay.

Here’s tips from Better Health to hopefully overcome this;

  • Swap your brush for one with a small head such as one made for toddlers
  • Take your time with slow brush strokes
  • Close your eyes and focus on breathing
  • Use music or some other distraction
  • Try different brands of toothpaste or temporarily brush with water and follow up with a fluoridated mouthwash

Dental dilemmas of frequent snacking and cravings

My cravings in the first trimester were intrinsically linked to alleviating morning sickness. If I gave into them, my stomach would reward me by not bringing up its contents. But this time around the extra sweet treats I craved put me at a greater risk of tooth decay.

This made brushing my teeth even through the retching so much more important. And while occasionally it could trigger my morning sickness, I tried sipping fluoridated tap water as much as possible throughout the day.

When to visit the dentist

Whether you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, the best time to visit your dentist is NOW. Making sure your dental health is under control can make a huge difference to your chances of conception, your health and that of your unborn baby during pregnancy and your health post-pregnancy.

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