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Pregnancy and Oral Health

Throughout pregnancy, women may worry about their waistlines and fret about food. You take prenatal vitamins, see your doctor frequently, get regular exercise, and avoid alcohol and smoking—all in the name of a healthy pregnancy and, ultimately, a healthy baby.

Something you might not associate with a healthy pregnancy is dental care. But regular dental checkups and cleanings, along with frequent brushing and flossing, are important for a healthy mouth and a healthy pregnancy.

Seeing the dentist

Woman having her teeth examined

Pregnant or not, you should be seeing your dentist every six months for a cleaning and examination. While you're pregnant, it's even more important that you don't skip those twice-yearly visits. Regular exams can help prevent and control gum disease and infections, thought to be related to preterm birth and low birth weight in babies. Preterm birth and low birth weight are commonly associated with neurological complications, developmental problems, and even death.

Pregnancy hormones can cause oral health problems such as gingivitis and swollen, bleeding, and irritated gums. Gums may also be extremely tender, and brushing and flossing may be uncomfortable. If you suffer from gum disease or have problems with your teeth or gums during pregnancy, your dentist may suggest that you schedule more frequent cleanings throughout the second and third trimesters.

The X-ray risk

X-rays are not recommended during pregnancy because the exposure to radiation can be harmful to a developing fetus. Though X-rays are usually part of a routine dental exam, your dentist will probably just skip them until after you've had your baby.

If you have a dental emergency and X-rays are essential, keep in mind that the amount of radiation emitted from a single X-ray is quite low. Your dentist will also protect your baby by covering you with a lead apron.

Whenever possible, it's best to avoid X-rays completely in the first trimester; that’s when your baby's organs are developing.

Maintaining a healthy mouth

In addition to regularly scheduled dental cleanings and examinations, proper dental care at home can help protect gums and teeth from disease and decay. At least twice daily, brush teeth thoroughly using a toothpaste containing fluoride. At least once a day, carefully floss between each tooth.

It's also important not to overindulge in those pregnancy cravings if you have a sweet tooth. Try to limit your intake of sugary, sticky, sweet treats. Instead, opt for crunchy fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods that are less likely to cause tooth decay. If you do treat yourself to dessert, make sure to brush and floss promptly afterward to ward off tooth decay.

Protecting baby's teeth

Your prenatal trips to the dentist are also a great opportunity to talk about the best ways to care for your new baby's teeth. Ask your dentist how and when to start brushing and flossing baby's teeth and about avoiding habits that can transmit bacteria to baby's mouth, like putting a pacifier, spoon, or bottle nipple in your mouth to clean it.  Also ask what you can do as your baby grows to help reduce the risk for cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease to help baby's dental health flourish as those first tiny teeth break through.