When you’re pregnant, you see many doctors. Few people know that visiting the dentist can be essential, too.
“Dangerous bacteria from a mother’s gum infection can travel via the bloodstream and infect her unborn baby, causing all sorts of problems and even resulting in the baby’s death, ” explains Susan Maples, DDS, who has practiced dentistry in Holt, Mi., for nearly 30 years.
Why take a chance? Gum disease is a problem you can address. The key is to brush and floss daily — twice a day is even better — and get professional dental cleanings to clear out pockets in the gums around the teeth. If your gums are swollen, red, or tender, go to the dentist, fast.
Don’t wait until you’re pregnant: Gum disease may also affect conception. One study concluded that women with gum disease took two months longer to get pregnant. Obesity also hurts fertility, by about the same amount.
These researchers found that women without gum disease took five months on average to conceive, compared to seven for women with gum problems. The women who took longer than a year to conceive tended to be older than 35, overweight or obese, and smokers.
Studying more than 3,400 pregnant women in Australia, the same team discovered that 26 percent had gum disease. Once you are pregnant, normal hormonal changes increase your risk for developing inflamed gums — a condition called “pregnancy gingivitis” — or periodontitis, the formal name for gum disease. If you already had gum disease, it’s likely to get worse while you’re pregnant, when progesterone rises in the body, making it easier for certain bacteria to grow and making your gum tissue more sensitive to plaque.
Pregnancy gingivitis usually appears between the second and eighth month of pregnancy. You may notice that your gums look redder and bleed a little when you brush your teeth, or that your gums look swollen. You should also get a C-reactive protein (CRP) test; high levels of CRP may be caused by gum problems and lead to complications in pregnancy.
Typically during the second trimester, you may notice on your gums a lump with deep red dots on it, usually near the upper gum line. It can glisten, bleed, and crust over. These lumps have been called “tumors,” although they’re not cancer, but simply an inflammatory reaction to an irritation on your gums. A lump may also be called a “pyogenic granuloma,” “granuloma of pregnancy,” “lobular capillary hemangioma,” or “pregnancy epulide.” Don’t panic: these lumps often disappear after the baby’s birth. However, they may indicate gingivitis.
Many women worry about whether it’s safe to take local anesthetics for dental work while pregnant. Dentists usually use lidocaine, which does pass through the placenta, but is considered not to be toxic to the developing baby. Lidocaine is also frequently used to block pain during labor, when you get an “epidural” shot.
Go to the dentist and ask questions. You’d be surprised what you can learn at the dentist about your overall health, says Maples, who is also author of “Blabber Mouth: 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You to Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life.”
Janet O’Dell, RN