What is dental health and how does it affect pregnancy?

Dental health (also called oral health) is the health of your mouth, teeth and gums. It’s an important part of your overall health. And if you’re pregnant, it’s an important part of your prenatal care (medical care you get during pregnancy).

Being pregnant can increase your risk for oral health problems, and these problems can affect your pregnancy. For example, some studies show a link between gum disease and premature birth. Premature birth is birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born full term.

Taking good care of your mouth, teeth and gums during pregnancy can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

How does pregnancy affect your dental health?

Changes in your body during pregnancy can affect your teeth and gums. For example:

These changes can increase your risk for certain dental problems during pregnancy, including:

Cavities (also called tooth decay or caries). These are small, damaged areas in the surface of your teeth. Being pregnant makes you more likely to have cavities. You can pass the bacteria that causes cavities to your baby during pregnancy and after birth. This can cause problems for your baby’s teeth later in life.

Gingivitis. Gingivitis is inflammation (redness and swelling) of the gums. If untreated, it can lead to more serious gum disease. Pregnancy hormones can increase your risk for gingivitis. Sixty to 75 percent of pregnant women have gingivitis. Signs and symptoms include:

Loose teeth. High levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy can temporarily loosen the tissues and bones that keep your teeth in place. This can make your teeth loose.

Periodontal disease (also called periodontitis or gum disease).  If gingivitis is untreated, it can lead to periodontal disease. This causes serious infection in the gums and problems with the bones that support the teeth. Your teeth may get loose, and they may have to be extracted (pulled). Periodontitis can lead to bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream). This is a serious condition that needs immediate treatment. Smoking is a cause of severe gum disease.

Pregnancy tumors (also called pyogenic granuloma). These tumors are not cancer. They’re lumps that form on the gums, usually between teeth. Pregnancy tumors look red and raw, and they bleed easily. They can be caused by having too much plaque (a sticky film containing bacteria that forms on teeth). These tumors usually go away on their own after giving birth. In rare cases they may need to be removed by your health care provider.

Tooth erosion. If you have vomiting from morning sickness, your teeth may be exposed to too much stomach acid. This acid can harm the enamel (the hard surface) of your teeth. Morning sickness (also called nausea and vomiting of pregnancy or NVP) is nausea and vomiting that happens during pregnancy, usually in the first few months.

What are signs and symptoms of dental problems during pregnancy?

If you have any signs or symptoms of dental problems, call your dentist. Signs of a condition are things someone else can see or know about you, like you have a rash or you’re coughing. Symptoms are things you feel yourself that others can’t see, like having a sore throat or feeling dizzy.

Signs and symptoms of dental problems include:

If you have pain or swelling, call your dentist right away. If you have an infection, you need quick treatment to help prevent problems for your baby.

How can you prevent dental problems during pregnancy?

Get regular dental checkups before and during pregnancy. At your checkups, tell your dentist:

Dental checkups before and during pregnancy are important so your dentist can find and treat dental problems early. And regular teeth cleanings help keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Are dental X-rays safe during pregnancy?

Yes. X-rays are part of regular dental care. Dental X-rays can show problems with your teeth, gums and the bones around your mouth. An X-ray is a medical test that uses radiation to make a picture on film. Radiation is a kind of energy that can be harmful to your health if you’re exposed to too much.

Dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy. They use very small amounts of radiation, and your dentist covers you with a special apron and collar to protect you and your baby. If your dentist wants to give you an X-ray, make sure she knows that you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

How are dental problems treated during pregnancy?

If you have a dental problem that needs treatment, make sure your dentist knows that you’re pregnant. Depending on your condition, you may be able to wait for treatment after your baby’s birth. Treatments that are safe during pregnancy include:

You can have dental treatment any time during pregnancy. If it’s elective treatment (treatment that you don’t need immediately and isn’t necessary to protect your health or your baby’s health), try to schedule it in the second trimester.

What can you do to help prevent dental problems?

Here’s how you can help keep your teeth and gums healthy: