Pregnancy is a very special and exciting time for expectant women and their families. At this time, many moms-to-be make careful choices to try and do what’s best for themselves and their babies. Wondering what’s the right way to take care of your oral health when you’re expecting? Here are answers to a few of the most common questions about dental care during pregnancy.
Q: Does pregnancy make a woman more susceptible to dental problems?
A: Yes. Pregnancy causes big changes in the levels of certain hormones, and these in turn have a powerful influence on your body. For example, many expectant moms experience food cravings and morning sickness at certain times. Changing hormone levels can also affect your oral health in various ways, including making your gums tender, swollen, and highly sensitive to the harmful bacteria in plaque.
Q: What are “pregnancy tumors” in the mouth?
A: These are benign (non-cancerous) overgrowths of tissue that sometimes develop on the gums during the second trimester. Often appearing between the teeth, these swollen reddish growths are thought to be caused by plaque bacteria. They sometimes go away on their own when pregnancy is over, but may be surgically removed if they don’t.
Q: Is it normal to have bleeding gums during pregnancy?
A: It’s not uncommon, but it does indicate that you need to pay careful attention to your oral hygiene at this time. Pregnancy hormones can cause the tiny blood vessels in your gums to become enlarged; when plaque bacteria are not effectively removed from the mouth, the gums may become inflamed and begin to bleed. This condition is often called “pregnancy gingivitis.” If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. That’s one reason why regular brushing and flossing are so important during pregnancy — as are routine professional cleanings.
Q: Is it safe to have dental cleanings and checkups during pregnancy?
A: Yes; in fact, it’s a very good idea to have at least one. Studies have shown that women who receive dental treatment during pregnancy face no more risks to their developing babies than those who don’t. On the other hand, poor oral health is known to cause gum disease, and is also suspected of being linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Routine dental exams and professional cleanings can help you maintain good oral health and avoid many potential problems during this critical time.
Q: Should I postpone more complicated dental work until after I have a baby?
A: It depends. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found it was safe for pregnant women to have routine procedures like fillings, root canals, and extractions, even if they require local anesthesia. So treatments that are essential to an expectant mother’s health shouldn’t be put off. However, if you’re planning to have cosmetic dental work, it might be best to err on the side of caution and wait until after your baby is born.
Have more questions about oral health during pregnancy? Contact our office or schedule a consultation — and be sure to let us know that you are pregnant, so we can make sure you get the extra attention you need. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
Here’s a sobering statistic: you have a 50/50 chance over your lifetime for developing periodontal (gum) disease. And it’s much more serious than irritated gums: if not treated aggressively you could experience bone loss, which can not only lead to tooth loss but actually increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Initially, you may not notice any symptoms unless you know what to look for: mainly red and puffy gums that frequently bleed during brushing and flossing. As the infection advances into the underlying support structures that hold teeth in place you may also notice receding gums (moving away from your teeth causing them to look longer), pus around the gums or lingering bad breath or taste. And one or more loose teeth are a definite sign the supporting structures have weakened severely.
So, how does gum disease happen? It starts with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of these and other microorganisms, most of which are friendly and even beneficial. Unfortunately, a fraction of them can infect and harm tissues like the gums and underlying bone. Your mouth’s defenses can normally handle them if their numbers remain low. But a bacterial population explosion can quickly overwhelm those defenses.
Bacteria are like any other life form: they need a secure environment and food. Disease-causing bacteria establish the former by utilizing proteins and other components of saliva to form a sticky biofilm on teeth known as plaque. Within the safe haven of dental plaque bacteria quickly multiply and form a complex and concentrated ecosystem feeding on remnant food particles, especially sugar and other carbohydrates.
The key to gum disease prevention (as well as treatment) is to deprive bacteria of their home and food source by removing plaque and its more hardened form calculus (tartar). You can manage plaque buildup by brushing and flossing daily, seeing your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove any remaining hard-to-reach plaque and calculus, and eating a nutritious diet with fewer sweets or other carbohydrate-rich snacks.
You can further lower your disease risk by avoiding smoking and other tobacco products and moderating your consumption of alcohol. And be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection with your gums. Taking these steps can help you avoid gum disease’s destructiveness and help preserve a healthy and attractive smile.
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
It's time to fire up the grill. So how about some tooth-healthy tips for a summer barbecue that will leave your belly satisfied and your teeth intact?
- Appetizers: Starting with appetizers, mind the chips. Tortilla chips can get lodged beneath your gums, potentially causing an abscess. Potato chips can stick to your teeth and invite decay-causing bacteria. How about a cheese or veggie platter instead? Cheese keeps tooth enamel strong, and raw vegetables will scrub your teeth clean.
- Main course: When it comes to meat with bones, like barbecued ribs or chicken drumsticks, bite carefully. Don't chew on the bones. Be especially cautious if you have any large fillings or porcelain veneers.
- Beverages: Avoid soda and lemonade. The dangerous duo of acid plus sugar in these drinks is the ideal formula for tooth decay. Water is the best choice for staying hydrated. Plus, it washes away debris in your mouth and helps neutralize the acid from food.
- After the meal: Need a toothpick? Watch out. They can act like miniature swords, piercing the gums. And wooden toothpicks might splinter, leaving an embedded fragment in your gums. So never leave home without your own supply of dental floss or flexible plastic toothpicks.
Can you have healthy teeth and still have gum disease? Absolutely! And if you don’t believe us, just ask actor David Ramsey. The cast member of TV hits such as Dexter and Arrow said in a recent interview that up to the present day, he has never had a single cavity. Yet at a routine dental visit during his college years, Ramsey’s dentist pointed out how easily his gums bled during the exam. This was an early sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the dentist told him.
“I learned that just because you don’t have cavities, doesn’t mean you don’t have periodontal disease,” Ramsey said.
Apparently, Ramsey had always been very conscientious about brushing his teeth but he never flossed them.
“This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that exists just in my house — a lot of people who brush don’t really floss,” he noted.
Unfortunately, that’s true — and we’d certainly like to change it. So why is flossing so important?
Oral diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal disease often start when dental plaque, a bacteria-laden film that collects on teeth, is allowed to build up. These sticky deposits can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which is irritating to the gums and must be removed during a professional teeth cleaning.
Brushing teeth is one way to remove soft plaque, but it is not effective at reaching bacteria or food debris between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Floss can fit into spaces that your toothbrush never reaches. In fact, if you don’t floss, you’re leaving about a thirdÂ to half of your tooth surfaces unclean — and, as David Ramsey found out, that’s a path to periodontal disease.
Since then, however, Ramsey has become a meticulous flosser, and he proudly notes that the long-ago dental appointment “was the last we heard of any type of gum disease.”
Let that be the same for you! Just remember to brush and floss, eat a good diet low in sugar, and come in to the dental office for regular professional cleanings.
If you would like more information on flossing or periodontal disease, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease.”
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