A lot of people think that dental visits are something to avoid during pregnancy, but the opposite is actually the case – and we’re not just saying that because we work in a dental office.
In fact, pregnant women are at a greater risk of periodontal disease – thanks, hormones! – as the science shows.
For instance, one 2017 study in PLOS ONE followed the pregnancies of 96 women. During each trimester and 40 days postpartum, researchers recorded the women’s plaque scores, gingival inflammation, and probing depth.
All scores worsened during pregnancy and improved after the baby was born.
It’s important to note that “although the evidence suggests that pregnancy is not in itself a risk factor for periodontal disease,” as the authors put it,
gingival disorders are well documented in the mother during the second and third trimester of gestation. It is therefore important for pregnant women to achieve meticulous plaque control and receive preventive periodontal treatment.
Why the increased risk? Factors noted in the scientific literature include
- Hormonal changes that affect the immune system.
- Changes in lymphocyte (white blood cell) response and lower antibody production.
- Inhibition of T cell activity.
- Maternal stress.
- Nutritional stress associated with the nutritional demands of both mother and child.
Further, “Estrogen and progesterone receptors in the gingival [gums],” they write, “would explain, among other factors, the increased gingival response to plaque during pregnancy.”
Perio problems don’t just affect the mother’s health, though, but also that of the child she’s carrying.
In one recent review of 20 earlier studies, researchers found that pregnant women with advanced gum disease had twice the risk of preterm birth. An earlier review found that gum disease meant a higher risk of preeclampsia and low birth weight, as well.
The good news is that there are things that expecting mothers can do to reduce their risk. This starts with taking a proactive role in maintaining good oral health before you become pregnant.
The usual advice for preventing gum disease still applies: eating a balanced and nutrient-dense diet based on whole foods, getting enough good quality sleep and physical activity, managing stress, keeping up your home hygiene, seeing your dentist for regular exams and cleanings, and so on.
Yes, cleanings are perfectly safe. Generally speaking, the second trimester is the best time to pursue any needed dental care. (The third trimester is safe, too, although it can be uncomfortable to lay back for too long.)
Major dental work, however, should be put on hold until after pregnancy; likewise, any elective dental procedures. If you have concerns, talk about them with your dentist. We’re here to help you make the best decisions for your family’s health as well as your own.