It is a long-held misconception that women should avoid dental checkups while pregnant- and while nobody knows exactly how this myth got started, stopping the misinformation is important. Oral health care is just as important, if not more important, during pregnancy than it is during any other time in a woman’s life.
For many women, pregnancy is a time of optimism and joy- but it can also be a time of worry, especially for the health of their unborn child. For this reason, many women are extremely cautious with everything from the foods they eat to the amount of time spent sitting or standing. But one area that you may not realize is of extreme importance during pregnancy is your oral health. In fact, a 2011 study confirmed that gingivitis and periodontitis in pregnant women could be a contributor to low birth weight in their babies.
Pregnancy can also change how your body reacts to plaque, thanks to a surge in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal increases can cause what is known as ‘pregnancy gingivitis,’ indicated by tender, red, swollen gums, that may be more inclined to bleed while brushing and flossing. Thankfully, pregnancy-related gingivitis will generally go away on its own after childbirth, however, if the patient already has gingivitis prior to becoming pregnant, pregnancy may cause symptoms to worsen and then improve following childbirth. Either way, gingivitis during pregnancy should be taken seriously, because left untreated it can cause periodontitis- a condition which can cause irreparable damage to the teeth, gums, and jaw bone- often resulting in their loss.
Pregnancy can also cause oral tumors. Though not dangerous, these tumors can be painful and a nuisance when eating. Though these tumors will go away on their own, if they are bothersome, your dentist can safely and easily remove them- even during pregnancy.
Another concern some women have during pregnancy is regarding the use of fluoride. Fluoride is found in most toothpaste, in the water we drink, and in many over the counter mouthwashes. There have been no studies linking fluoride and birth defects, though some studies have found that excessive exposure to the drug can cause skeletal fluorosis in children later in life. While most patients would never encounter the levels of fluoride necessary to cause skeletal fluorosis, if you are concerned about fluoride levels, speak to your dentist prior to treatment. The FDA guideline for pregnant women to receive fluoride treatment is to only use when medically necessary- so if you’re due for a fluoride treatment while pregnant, in most cases you should be safe.
Finally, one of the biggest areas of concern for pregnant women during dental exams is the x-ray. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the American College of Radiology, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), x-rays during pregnancy are safe with proper protection. However, despite being proven safe, many dentists do not feel comfortable giving x-rays to pregnant patients unless absolutely necessary. If you would prefer to have x-rays done and your dentist would not discuss it with him during your appointment. If on the other hand your dentist would like to x-ray your mouth and you are not comfortable with this for any reason, you always have the right to decline any portion of your exam. In most cases, x-rays can be put off until after childbirth, though some dentists will not x-ray women who are breastfeeding, either.
Ultimately, the only oral care you should avoid during pregnancy is the non-essential care. Things like veneers or braces can wait- and certain whitening procedures should not be conducted on pregnant patients at all. If you are pregnant, congratulations- and remember, this is an important time for your baby’s well-being and your well-being, too! Make sure your oral health is a top priority. To set up an appointment with Dr. Hill, give the office a call at 972-644-8500.