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During the nine months of pregnancy, there are likely a million things that are on your mind at any given moment. In early pregnancy, your primary focus might just be making it through the day without succumbing to morning sickness, or making it to your next ultrasound appointment. As the months go on, heartburn, back pain, and constipation might be on your list of pregnancy discomforts.
Something you might not be thinking at all about during pregnancy is your oral health. Believe it or not, your teeth and gums can be affected by pregnancy. In fact, 60 to 75 percent of pregnant people have oral health issues like gingivitis during their pregnancy, according to a report by CareQuest Dental Health Institute. And in the worst case scenario, untreated gum disease can lead to complications like preterm birth or low weight.
We definitely don’t want that to happen, so we spoke to dental experts to find out why pregnancy may cause oral health changes and how to take extra precautions when taking care of your teeth and gums while you’re pregnant. Keep scrolling for pregnancy-safe dental tips and products — you might be due for a new toothbrush anyway!
Why does pregnancy cause you to be more susceptible to gum disease?
Pregnancy hormones are the culprit of many of the changes you have during the three trimesters, including morning sickness, and it turns out it can be a culprit of morning sickness, too. “The body’s rising levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can cause sensitive teeth or swollen and inflamed gums, which can sometimes lead to pregnancy gingivitis. If left untreated, it can cause tooth decay and enamel erosion, as well as impact the baby,” explains Dr. Victoria Veytsman, DDS, Philips Sonicare Partner.
However, there will be some preliminary signs of gingivitis, the precursor to full-blown periodontal disease, before it gets to that severe point, so don’t worry. Some people have gingivitis before they get pregnant, and it persists throughout pregnancy or gets worse with all the inflammation. Other people may notice gingivitis red flags like swollen, red, or bleeding gums when brushing their teeth for the first time during pregnancy, says Schelli Stedke, dental hygienist and care advisor at Dentistry.One. “In combination with that, people may have gastric upset and are feeling poorly, which makes it harder to clean their mouth or get motivated to take care of any part of their body,” Stedke adds. The vomiting often associated with morning sickness can coat the teeth with acid, potentially eroding the teeth and leading to cavities and decay.
So how can this impact the baby? More research still needs to be done, but severe gum disease during pregnancy could lead to poor birth outcomes, including premature birth or low birth weight. This is possibly because gingivitis begins as an infection of gum tissue, but can progress to the more serious form of gum disease, periodontitis, that could involve bloodstream infections that eventually affect the baby, Stedke explains. It is also possible to pass along cavity-causing bacteria from parent to child in simple ways like sharing a spoon or straw, since infants aren’t naturally born with that type of bacteria, according to Stedke.
While gingivitis is common and isn’t life-threatening in its initial stages, you can still attempt to prevent it during pregnancy and otherwise, and therefore prevent any related pregnancy complications, by taking extra care of your oral health during pregnancy. The experts weigh in on exactly how to up your dental care game below.
Oral health tips for pregnancy
Brush with an electric toothbrush.
Basically you should keep doing what you’ve been doing in terms of caring for your teeth: brush twice a day and clean between your teeth daily. For a higher-power clean during this time, Veytsman recommends an electric toothbrush (for example, the Philips Sonicare 4100 can remove up to seven times more plaque, a sticky layer of bacteria, than a regular toothbrush).
Use regular toothpaste.
You don’t need to pick up any kind of fancy toothpaste during pregnancy. Stedke advises sticking with a toothpaste that’s FDA-approved and American Dental Association (ADA) accepted (many drugstore brands like Colgate have both credentials) for the most trusted clean. And a little goes a long way: You only need a pea-sized dab and don’t need to cover the whole toothbrush in order to brush your teeth thoroughly, she says.
Add a water flosser.
One step toward preventing gum disease is cleaning between the teeth. You should never skip a flossing session during pregnancy, according to Stedke. If a regular flosser is a hassle, Stedke suggests trying a water flosser like Waterpik. It cleans both the gums and hard-to-reach spots between teeth and can cover more surface area in the mouth.
A fluoride rinse can help.
Rinsing your mouth out with a minty mouthwash may be helpful on a couple of fronts: It could give you a fresher taste in your mouth post-morning sickness, and it also can help the enamel of the teeth stay strong. You should choose a mouthwash with fluoride, like the dentist-recommended Crest Pro-Health Rinse. “Fluoride helps re-mineralize acid that may have coated teeth from vomiting or eating sugar,” says Stedke.
Don’t use whitening products.
Though you might want the pearliest whites while you can’t control much else that’s happening to your body during pregnancy, it’s best to hold off on any whitening products for the next few months. “Professional whitening treatments, as well as many whitening strips and mouthwashes, contain hydrogen peroxide that can exacerbate gum inflammation and tooth sensitivity, which can sometimes lead to pregnancy gingivitis,” Veytsman says. It is safe to use whitening brush heads with polishing bristles like the Philips Sonicare W3 Premium White toothbrush heads, which are compatible with all Sonicare toothbrushes, in the meantime.
Suck xylitol mints.
“Products containing xylitol as the main sweetener can help reduce the bacteria that cause decay; you can buy mints, chewing gums, or sprays,” says Stedke. Just note that xylitol is a sugar acid and should be consumed in moderation, only once or twice a day, since too much of it can cause stomach upset, she adds. But it’s not a bad idea to carry these mints around with you, especially if you have a lot of morning sickness.
On that note, Stedke mentions that if you do get sick, you should wait up to a half hour after vomiting to brush your teeth, as to not induce more acid formation in the mouth. She recommends rinsing with a mix of baking soda and water to clean our your mouth, and brushing a short while later so your mouth feels totally fresh.
There’s no surefire way to prevent gingivitis altogether, but the experts suggest continuing to do a lot of what you’re already doing during pregnancy: eating a healthy diet for both you and the baby. “Avoiding foods with high amounts of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium can help reduce the risk of pregnancy gingivitis,” Veytsman says, and can also ensure you’re feeling your best throughout these next nine months.
Before you go, check out these other pregnancy essentials: