Starting the Conversation Regarding Pregnancy and Oral Health Care

914398_40100404The importance of one’s oral health is gaining attention from the media after recent studies noted more evidence that Alzheimer’s disease and poor oral hygiene are linked. Led by the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry, the study found bacteria in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients that could have stemmed from the same bacteria that cause bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay. But the association between oral health and overall wellbeing doesn’t end there. According to the August 2013 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, proper care of the teeth and gums is pertinent for pregnant women. The Committee Opinion piece published in the journal urges gynecologists to discuss oral health with patients for the health of themselves and their babies.

Between 2007 and 2009, 56 percent of women did not seek oral health checkups during pregnancy, and cost could play a role. Access to proper dental care procedures and treatments may have prevented some from visiting the dentist during this important time in their lives. Although there is no solid evidence that associates proper oral care with pregnancy issues, concerns still arise based on the potential of transmission of bacteria from mother to infants. A 1996 study found an association between periodontal disease and pre-term birth; however, large trials have not proved this conclusion.

It’s also likely that pregnancy can cause oral health issues, such as gum disease and tooth decay, due to an increased inflammatory response, greater consumption of acidic and sugary food and drink, and the teeth’s exposure to gastric acid from morning sickness. Pregnancy gingivitis, benign oral gingival lesions, tooth erosion, tooth mobility, dental caries and periodontitis are all common conditions in pregnant women.

According to the authors, “for many women, obstetrician-gynecologists are the most frequently accessed health care professional, which creates a unique opportunity to educate women throughout their lifespan, including during pregnancy, about the importance of dental care and good oral hygiene.”

Oral assessments
While obstetricians and dentists agree that pregnant women should follow proper oral health practices, dentists remain concerned about the safety of performing routine procedures during this time. Because of this, experts urge pregnant women to visit the dentist at the first sign of child bearing. Dentists may be able to catch looming dental caries and offer expert advice on how to care for teeth and gums and prevent tooth decay.

A survey from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System that collected data from 10 states found that 60 percent of women didn’t get their teeth cleaned during pregnancy. Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic women were only 24 percent and 25 percent, respectively, likely to get a regular cleaning and white non-Hispanic women were 44 percent likely to visit the dentist.

Pregnant women who have swollen or bleeding gums, a toothache or trouble chewing food should make sure to visit a dentist to decrease the risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream. Dentists may recommend a fluorinated, alcohol-free mouthwash and the use of xylitol chewing gum to reduce the amount of oral bacteria and prevent arising issues. Xylitol is a natural sweetener known for its oral health and nasal benefits.

Roughly 40 percent of women suffer from periodontal disease during pregnancy. The most impacted population is among African American women who smoke and are on public assistance programs, which often do not support dental care.

Pregnant women should begin a conversation with their OB/GYN to ensure they are taking proper precautions during pregnancy and after giving birth. Avoiding sugary beverages and high-fat food and maintaining a healthy regimen of flossing, brushing and rinsing can prevent the accumulation of bacteria.

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