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Caring for your oral health during pregnancy

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Expectant mothers may potentially encounter various oral health challenges (Alicia Petresc - Unsplash)

By: Dr. Sofya Zulkiffli, Assoc. Prof Dr Noor Azlin Yahya

The joy and excitement of expecting a child often and understandably overshadows any thought of the critical link between pregnancy and dental care. This article discusses the significance of maintaining good oral hygiene during pregnancy, the associated risks with dental procedures, and proactive measures for expectant mothers to safeguard their dental health while nurturing their newest addition to the family.

Expectant mothers may potentially encounter various oral health challenges, including gingivitis, compromised tooth structure, tooth decay, and difficulties in maintaining optimal oral hygiene practices. One of the possible contributing factors is the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy which elevate the risk of gingivitis, an inflammatory gum infection caused by plaque build-up. Approximately 60 to 75% of pregnant women experience gingivitis, characterized by red and swollen gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to the loss of the bone supporting the teeth, resulting in gum infections and, in severe cases, tooth extraction. Additionally, poor dental health increases the risk of preeclampsia thereby contributing to premature and low birth weight babies.

The challenges extend to the impact of morning sickness and vomiting, which create an acidic environment in the mouth and may weaken tooth enamel. Retching associated with morning sickness can hinder thorough tooth brushing and flossing. As such, pregnant women experiencing severe vomiting should avoid morning dental appointments and dental procedures should be halted if nausea occurs.

Furthermore, the craving for sweets or starchy foods during pregnancy not only increases the risk of gestational diabetes but also raises the possibility of tooth decay. To maintain healthy teeth, expectant moms should reduce sugary snacks and opt for nutritious fruits. Using fluoridated toothpaste is also recommended to strengthen tooth enamel. These steps are crucial for the overall oral health of both the mother and the baby.

In cases where dental procedures are necessary, using the minimum required amount of anaesthesia ensures comfort for both mother and baby. If discomfort arises, requesting additional numbing can enhance the effectiveness of the anaesthesia and reduce stress. While dental radiographs should generally be avoided during pregnancy, certain infections and emergencies may pose risks if left untreated. If necessary, taking X-rays after the first trimester while wearing a lead apron to protect the abdomen is advisable.

Regular dental checkups during pregnancy are essential to mitigate adverse effects on oral health and ensure the well-being of both the mother and foetus. Urgent dental issues should be addressed in the early part of the third trimester, as discomfort tends to increase thereafter. Short dental appointments with appropriate positioning help prevent supine hypotension, a drop in blood pressure that occurs when moving from a lying down position.

In conclusion, the intricate relationship between pregnancy and dentistry emphasises the importance of pregnant moms prioritising their oral health. By understanding the unique challenges and taking proactive measures, mothers can navigate this transformative period with confidence, ensuring a healthy smile for both themselves and their precious bundle of joy.

As they embrace the journey of parenthood, a commitment to oral well-being becomes a vital component in laying a strong foundation for the health and happiness of the entire family.

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The authors are Restorative Specialists at the Restorative Department, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya. They may be reached at nazlin@um.edu.my

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