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Pregnant Women Need Dental Checkups, Too

Hormone changes during pregnancy can be bad for the mother's teeth and overall oral health, yet only one-third or fewer U.S. women visit a dentist while pregnant. A new article in the May/June 2010 issue of General Dentistry explains why oral health care is important during pregnancy.

Dental care during pregnancy is safe and effective, the researchers write, and in fact it's essential for combating adverse effects of oral disease.

"Hormonal changes during pregnancy can result in several changes in the mouth," says Dr. Homa Amini, co-author of the article in the May/June 2010 issue of General Dentistry. "Reports show that the most common oral disease is gingivitis."

Gingivitis, a buildup of plaque that causes inflammation of the gums, should be treated with a professional cleaning and proper toothbrushing and flossing, the researches point out. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease.

"Patients tend to delay the treatment of oral disease due to concerns for fetal safety; however, routine dental treatment can be performed safely at any time during pregnancy," Amini said.

Untreated dental disease can lead to pain, infections and unnecessary exposure to medications, any of which could harm the developing fetus. Poor oral health also can affect the nutritional intake of expectant mothers, which is essential for fetal growth and survival. Other studies have linked poor dental health with diabetes, low birth weight babies and heart disease.

The hormonal fluctuations that result from pregnancy can produce benign pregnancy tumors in the mouth. These tumors usually appear after the first trimester and typically go away after delivery; however, surgical removal may be required when these tumors bleed, interfere with eating or do not resolve after delivery.

Dentists might also notice dental erosion — the chemical or mechanochemical destruction of tooth material — in pregnant women, due to increased acid in the mouth following morning sickness.

"To neutralize acid after vomiting, pregnant women should rinse the mouth with a mixture of a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a cup of water," suggests Dr. Patricia Meredith, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. "The teeth should be brushed only after the mouth has been rinsed and the acid has been neutralized to prevent further damage to the enamel."