The importance of oral health during pregnancy is often under-emphasized to pregnant women. We all know it is important to have your 6-month dental checkup, but do you know that having a dental checkup is even more vital when you are pregnant? Cigna recently conducted a study that found only about 57% of expecting women go in for a dental checkup during pregnancy. Surprisingly, this number jumps to 77% when a woman’s doctor has discussed the importance of a dental checkup with her.
I doubt I am the only one whose doctor failed to mention the importance of having a dental checkup during pregnancy. Luckily I get those annoying/extremely helpful postcards in the mail every six months reminding me to go get checked. Since I do go regularly to the dentist, I was shocked to find out that my gums were inflamed to the point of gum disease during my second pregnancy! But I was able to work out solutions with my dentist and I’m happy to report that the gum disease improved substantially with the treatment and disappeared completely post birth.
So why is dental care so important during pregnancy and what can pregnant women do to improve oral health? Dr. Stacie Rivers, OB/GYN, is the lead medical director for Cigna High Risk Maternity programs and has answered a few of my questions regarding this subject:
- Why are pregnant women more vulnerable to oral health problems than others?
Physiologic changes during pregnancy – including hormonal changes – can create or exacerbate oral health issues. Pregnant women can be susceptible to sores in the mouth, bleeding and sensitive gums, loose teeth, cavities, and oral infections. In addition, common occurrences like vomiting because of morning sickness or having gastric reflux during the later stages of pregnancy can take a toll on tooth enamel.
In addition, pregnant women may eat foods high in sugar or starches as a result of cravings. In the Cigna study, 43% of pregnant women admit to snacking regularly on junk food. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on sugar and starches and attacks tooth enamel, reinforcing the importance for women of maintaining regular dental checkups.
- What is the most important thing a pregnant woman can do to prevent long-lasting oral problems?
Pregnancy is a “teachable” moment when women are motivated to adopt healthy behavior. Women who initiate and maintain oral health care during pregnancy tend to improve lifelong oral hygiene habits and dietary behavior for themselves and their families.
Good oral health habits are: seeking regular dental care both before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy; brushing at least twice a day; flossing after meals; talking to your obstetrician about any changes in your oral health; and eating a healthy diet. If you do have the occasional “junk food,” rinse your mouth with water afterwards to reduce the amount of sugar and starch left on the teeth.
- Even after being a frequent flosser, my gums bleed while flossing during pregnancy. Why?
An increased inflammatory response to dental plaque during pregnancy causes the gingivae (gums) to swell and bleed more easily in most women.
- How can poor oral hygiene affect a growing fetus?
More research is needed in this area, but the medical and dental community agree that any infection in the mother can also pose a risk to the unborn child.
- What prevents pregnant women from attending to their oral health needs?
Concern about costs prevents some women from seeing a dentist – even those who have dental benefits. However, dental checkups are so important that most dental benefit plans cover preventive care visits every six months with no or low out-of-pocket costs. Some dental benefit plans even have special maternity programs with additional services like extra cleanings or discounts on oral health prescriptions.
Some expectant mothers might not get a dental checkup simply because her physician or obstetrician has not mentioned oral health as part of overall wellness during maternity visits. The Cigna survey found that while 97% of women went to their medical checkups during pregnancy as frequently as directed, only 44% said that oral health was discussed as part of those appointments. The survey also found that women whose doctors talked about their oral health during maternity visits were about twice as likely to have a dental checkup while pregnant than expectant women whose doctors did not have those conversations with them.
So all you preggie mommas…don’t forget to get your dental checkup when you’re expecting! Check out even more great oral health information for expecting women and mothers at www.cigna.com/dental-resources. And here I am with my second child after all of my oral health issues had been cleared up!