Oral health and pregnancy: Why your mouth matters right now

Oral health and pregnancy: Why your mouth matters right now

A healthy mouth is key to a healthy pregnancy. Here’s why—and what to do about it

Pregnant woman brushing teeth

You’ve got a lot to smile about with a baby on the way. But that pregnancy can sometimes be hard on your pearly whites—and your baby, as a result.

“Pregnancy hormones can lead to inflammation in your mouth,” explains Dr. Abby Dennis, MD, an obstetrician in Baltimore, Maryland. “That can lead to gingivitis, a gum disease that may be a trigger for preterm birth and low birth weight.”

Morning sickness can also trigger oral health problems in expecting moms. That’s because, when you throw up, the acid from your stomach can break down the enamel coating of your teeth, which can cause cavities. Your mouth may also produce less saliva while you’re pregnant, leading to a dry mouth and—you guessed it—cavities.

The simple solution to these problems? Brush up on your oral hygiene, says Dr. Dennis.

That’s not always the case with pregnant women, however. A recent study found that while more than three-quarters of pregnant women have oral health problems, nearly half of them don’t see a dentist while they’re expecting. It’s often because they’re afraid that dental treatments may be harmful to their baby.

But taking care of your teeth is one of the best things you can do for a healthy pregnancy. “It’s perfectly safe to go to the dentist while you’re pregnant,” says Dr. Dennis, explaining that simple procedures, like fixing cavities, pose no threat to you or your baby. “You’ll probably want to put off X-rays until after you’ve delivered, unless there’s a very serious problem that needs to be treated right away.” She notes that, in that case, your dentist can do a shielded x-ray using a lead apron. 

For a healthy pregnancy—and a healthy baby—follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Start your pregnancy with a healthy mouth. Visit your dentist during your first trimester—or, ideally, before you conceive—for a complete oral exam. Be sure to let your dentist know that you’re expecting. Before your appointment, ask your obstetrician for a list of approved treatments and medications that are safe for you and your baby.
  2. Brush your teeth after every meal and don’t forget to floss. Floss before you brush, both in the morning and before bed, to remove all the food and plaque you built up during the day. Make sure to floss up and down, and around your teeth, to ensure you're getting in all the nooks and crannies.
  3. Gargle with mouthwash. Warm, salty water also works if your gums are particularly sensitive. 

For more ways to keep your mouth healthy during pregnancy, check out these tips from the American Dental Association.