Why is teeth and gum health important during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, women are at increased risk of having dental problems. It's not so much the pregnancy itself that negatively impacts oral health, but the effects of hormones and pregnancy side effects that can cause issues.
Some of the more common problems are due to increased vomiting which can raise the acidity in the mouth and expose the teeth to strong stomach acid. Over time, repeated reflux and vomiting can damage tooth enamel and increase the risk of decay.
It's also not uncommon for pregnant women to have swollen gums and gingivitis, which can cause the gums to bleed. It's especially important during pregnancy to make sure teeth are cleaned thoroughly and plaque does not have a chance to build up. Left unmanaged, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, a condition where the supporting structures around the teeth can be destroyed.
Recent studies have confirmed there is a link between pregnancy gingivitis and preterm birth. Left untreated, women with gingivitis are at an increased risk of having a baby with a lower birth weight. Severe gum disease, periodontitis, is associated with pre-eclampsia.
Should I get my teeth checked before I get pregnant?
There are benefits to having regular dental checks throughout life. Most dentists recommend routine dental checks every 6-12 months. However, some people need more or less frequent visits. Regular dental checks and preventative treatments help to detect any changes and problems that are best treated in the early stages.
If it's been a while since you've had a dental check-up and you've confirmed you're pregnant, make a dental appointment. Advise the receptionist when making the appointment that you're pregnant and make sure you let your dentist know as well. X-rays are not recommended during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.
How do I look after my teeth and gums during pregnancy?
Good dental hygiene is especially important during pregnancy. If you already have good oral hygiene habits, you don't need to do anything special when you're pregnant other than being more aware of any changes, including gum swelling.
- Brush at least twice each day for 2 minutes with a soft, small headed toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. An electric toothbrush is a good alternative if you tend to rush and need help cleaning your teeth thoroughly.
- If you're struggling to brush your back teeth because you have an over sensitive gag reflex, try using a fluoride mouthwash. Although it's not a replacement for regular brushing, it can be an alternative. Check with your dentist which mouthwash is safe to use.
- Floss daily between each tooth and remove food particles caught between your teeth. Do your own research into which type of floss or interdental brushes suit you. Pharmacies and dental practices stock a range of products.
- Speak with your dentist or dental therapist about your brushing action. Angle the toothbrush at a 45° angle and use a circular motion. Doing this helps to clean along the gum margin and prevent gingivitis.
- Brush your tongue as well as well as the inner, outer and chewing surfaces of each tooth. Brushing your tongue will help to reduce the bacteria in your mouth and keep your breath fresh.
Can I visit the dentist during pregnancy?
Yes, you can visit your dentist for a check-up at least once during your pregnancy. This is an important part of your overall pregnancy care. The best time to see a dentist is during the second trimester when reclining back in the dental chair may be more comfortable than the third trimester.
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Does morning sickness affect my teeth?
Yes, morning sickness and vomiting may affect your teeth. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone causes smooth muscle relaxation, which is useful for the body to prepare for labour. However, its effects are not limited to the pelvic area. Progesterone also causes a slowing down of digestion in the stomach and gut. Nausea, reflux and vomiting are common symptoms of pregnancy and combined with the slowed action of the digestive system, contribute to the risk of acid damage to the teeth.
How should I brush my teeth after vomiting?
Here are some tips on how to brush your teeth after vomiting.
- You may be tempted to brush your teeth immediately after vomiting, but wait for at least one hour. Brushing your teeth immediately after vomiting can cause damage to the teeth by stripping away the enamel.
- Rinse your mouth with plain water, or ¼ teaspoon of baking soda mixed in 1 cup of warm water.
- Rinse your mouth with a fluoride-containing mouthwash. Check the label to confirm the contents.
- Chew sugar-free gum. This helps to increase saliva production and rinse acids from the mouth.
- Drink milk or eat a piece of hard cheese — these work to neutralise the acid.
Pregnancy cravings and teeth
It's common for pregnant women to develop cravings for food and drinks and to frequently snack and graze throughout the day. While this can be effective in managing nausea and low blood sugar, it can also increase the risk of developing tooth decay or tooth erosion.
It's the frequency of snacking that is the issue, rather than how much food or drink someone has. Try to limit sweet snacks to one sitting and choose snacks carefully.
Are there any dental treatments I should avoid during pregnancy?
The general advice is that it is safe to have dental care while pregnant. Some elective dental treatments may be delayed until after the baby is born, for example, tooth whitening and dental implants. If, however, you have a toothache or you are worried about any changes in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: June 2023