Expectant Mothers

January 26, 2011

Gum problems linked to premature births: dental care vital for expectant mothers

If you’re pregnant, keeping your mouth healthy is as important as not smoking or drinking, getting enough sleep and eating right. In fact, poor oral health can lead to a number of pregnancy problems. Research has shown that oral infections can lead to issues such as preeclampsia, pre-term birth and low birth weight. So if you’re pregnant (or you’re planning to be), regular visits to your dentist can help you have a healthier pregnancy – and a healthier baby.

Due to increased estrogen and progesterone, some pregnant women end up with increased gingivitis, which can lead to periodontitis (infected gums). That’s why it’s vital to visit your dentist regularly during your pregnancy – I usually recommend two visits or more, depending on your overall oral health – so you can have preventative treatments such as plaque removal and scaling, which keep gum disease and infection at bay. If your periodontitis ends up being more advanced, or if you end up developing tooth decay, your dentist can also perform root planing or fillings using a local anaesthetic that won’t harm your baby.

But what happens if you have a dental emergency while you’re pregnant? A number of my patients have expressed concerns about undergoing treatments that could potentially harm their unborn babies.

Let me start by saying that there’s generally less danger in treating the emergency than in not treating it. If you have an infection, leaving it alone won’t just harm you; it can hurt your baby, too. Plus, the pain and anxiety you’ll go through aren’t good for your little one either. Dentists pay attention to the special needs of pregnant patients, offering the safest possible options for treatment. Here are some things to keep in mind if you do end up having a dental emergency:

  • Tell your dentist you’re pregnant – Let the office know how far along you are, and inform them of any health problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, toxemia, miscarriage, bleeding, premature labour) so they can assess your health and weigh any risks associated with your treatment. Also tell your dentist about any morning sickness or shortness of breath when you’re lying down, so he or she can help you be as comfortable as possible.
  • X-rays – In a dental emergency, x-rays help the dentist with diagnosis and treatment. But don’t worry – studies have shown that there is no increased risk of birth abnormalities when exposure is below five rads, and dental x-rays are less than 1/100 of this value (with digital x-rays being even lower). We always have the patient wear a lead apron for added protection, and use a narrow and direct beam with high-speed film to further decrease exposure. So if your dentist needs to take an x-ray, the exposure to you and your baby will be minimal – and safe for both of you.
  • Meds – Medications that are dangerous to the baby’s development are well-known and strictly avoided with pregnant patients. The only medications we prescribe are those that will alleviate the effect of pain and stress on mother and child.

Whether we’re working with expectant mothers or not, dental professionals always put the well-being of our patients first. So whether that means minimizing your exposure to x-rays, helping you maintain healthy gums or making you feel comfortable during your visit, rest assured that your health – and the health of your baby – always comes first.

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