As a pregnant person, you expect to have a swollen belly. You may not have been particularly surprised by newly swollen ankles. It’s possible you knew to expect the swollen, uncomfortable feet. Pregnancy causes huge changes throughout the entire body, bringing about changes that are both expected and overt and changes that are subtle and surprising. Of all the changes that occur during pregnancy, you may have been most surprised to discover your swollen, red gums. Unfortunately, pregnancy can greatly increase your risk of gum disease. So, if you are expecting and find yourself suffering dental woes, what can you do to alleviate the misery of gum disease during pregnancy?
Wait, What is Gingivitis Exactly?
Simply put, gingivitis is an infection in the gums. It’s a milder, early stage of periodontal disease. Left untreated, it can progress to a more serious infection, periodontitis. Redness, swelling, and bleeding from the gums are common signs of gingivitis. In pregnant women, gum inflammation can occur between 30-100% of the time.
Why Is This Happening?
There are a couple of reasons that can make you more susceptible to gingivitis (and other oral health issues) during pregnancy. The increase in pregnancy hormones also leads to an increase in blood flow to your gums. Your immune system also behaves differently during pregnancy. It is often less efficient at fighting off the bacteria that cause both caries (cavities) and gingivitis.
Additionally, the increased blood flow to your gums can make them more tender, which can make brushing and flossing more uncomfortable. Poor brushing and flossing lets plaque build up on teeth, both causing and aggravating gum inflammation, which leads to gum infection—gingivitis.
What Can Be Done?
First and foremost, the most important step you can take to protect your oral health is to maintain excellent home care habits. Brushing and flossing are more important than ever while pregnant. Sometimes, the harsh taste of mint toothpaste can aggravate morning sickness. If that becomes a problem for you, consider switching to a product that offers other flavors to make brushing less bothersome. Use a soft toothbrush, and be sure to keep up a healthy flossing routine.
If you are suffering from morning sickness with vomiting, it’s particularly important to pay attention to your oral health. Rinse with plain water after any vomiting and brush with an enamel-building toothpaste at least twice a day. Try not to brush immediately after bouts of morning sickness so as not to brush away the acid-weakened enamel, accidentally causing more damage.
Keep your regular dental visits, making sure you visit the dentist at least once during your pregnancy. Your dental care team is able to catch problems early and help keep a little issue from spinning out into a big problem. Make sure you let your dental care providers know that you are pregnant when you go in for an appointment. Having all the information helps them give you the best care possible.
If you develop gingivitis, you should follow your dental professional’s treatment plan to keep it from getting worse while you are pregnant. You may find that rinsing with salt water helps with the inflammation. Your doctor or dentist may recommend antibiotics or an antimicrobial rinse to treat more advanced infections.
Is it Safe to Treat Gingivitis While Pregnant?
It’s a great deal safer to treat gingivitis than it is to ignore it. Although it is a mild infection, it is still an active infection and can cause inflammation throughout the body. It’s better for your health and the health of your unborn baby to treat the infection.
If your dental care team knows you are pregnant, they will be able to tailor your treatment plan to be safe not only for you but also for your unborn baby. If you have any questions about the safety of a treatment recommended for you, don’t hesitate to ask questions and discuss your concerns with your care providers.
Can I Put Off Treating It?
It’s not a good idea to leave a gum infection untreated during pregnancy. In addition to the long-term risk to your mouth, periodontal disease is associated with a higher risk of preterm birth and low birthweight. The bacteria that infect the mouth can infect the baby, increasing the risk of a less-desirable pregnancy outcome.
Do what’s best for your growing baby and for yourself—take excellent care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy. The long-term benefits are undeniable.