The Risk that Gum Disease Poses in Pregnant Women

A smile is often the first thing other people notice, so you naturally want to preserve a healthy, beautiful smile as a form of social currency. You smile can make you feel more confident and attractive. You also want to feel healthy and well, and when your gums are irritated, inflamed, and harboring infection, you’re obviously not going to feel your best. Gum disease is never desirable.

Unfortunately, staving off gum disease is not always entirely within our control. You have a lot of power to preserve your smile by brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash daily, and ideally, after every meal. You can visit your dentist regularly for examination, cleaning, and x-rays. However, factors beyond your control could also play a part in the development of gum disease.

Heredity, age, diseases, and medications you take could all affect your oral health. What you might not know is that pregnancy could also contribute to the onset of gum disease, and it could pose a risk not only to the mother, but the baby, as well. Here’s what you need to know about the heightened risks of gum disease when you’re pregnant.

Higher Risk for Developing Gum Disease

As any pregnant woman can attest, the condition comes with major hormonal shifts that are necessary to support a growing fetus, but which also have some unfortunate side effects. An increase in estrogen during the first trimester, for example, is responsible for a well-known condition: morning sickness. Later on, high estrogen levels are key to the development of milk ducts necessary to feed a newborn.

During pregnancy, progesterone levels also increase, causing joints and ligaments throughout the body to loosen in preparation for the growth of the baby, as well as labor and delivery. As with the spike in estrogen, the increase in progesterone can cause some unwanted side effects.

Not only can gum tissue become more sensitive during pregnancy, overreacting to the presence of plaque and tartar in ways it didn’t previously, but high progesterone levels may invite the growth of certain bacteria, including those responsible for gingivitis.

This can lead to a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis, which affects an estimated 40% of pregnant women, although some statistics suggest numbers could be as high as 70%, with many cases going unreported. It tends to develop anywhere between 2-8 months after conception and it could either appear as the onset of gingivitis or as a worsening of a previous condition, for women that already suffer gum disease.

Common signs of pregnancy gingivitis include gums that are red, swollen, and tender, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. You may also notice bleeding when you brush or floss. If these symptoms appear, it’s best to contact your dentist for an immediate visit so you can diagnose and begin to treat the problem. Without treatment, significant advancement of symptoms could lead to tooth loss.

Risks for the Baby

It’s important to treat pregnancy gingivitis as soon as possible because it not only affects your health, but it could also pose risk factors for your baby. Some studies have linked premature birth and low birth weight to the occurrence of periodontal disease, particularly chronic gum disease.

Of course, it’s important to note that many other factors, such as age of the mother, ethnicity, smoking habits, and more have also been linked to premature birth and low birth weight, so periodontal disease may be just one of many contributing factors in such cases. Still, expectant mothers need to know all potential risk factors in order to make wise decisions about their health during pregnancy, and oral health is something that you at least have some control over (unlike heredity, for example).

Preventing Pregnancy Gingivitis

It may not be possible to prevent pregnancy gingivitis, but working with your dentist on preventive care is the best way to minimize the impact of this common condition. Home care is essential, so if you don’t already brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash twice daily, now is the time to implement a stricter oral care routine.

You’ll also want to stick to your regular schedule of dental visits, or even increase them if you exhibit signs of pregnancy gingivitis. It can be tempting to avoid the dentist when you’re experiencing morning sickness, for example, but it’s important to see your dentist as soon as you’re able, especially if you have any symptoms of gum disease during pregnancy.

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