Does a mother's dental health affect her baby?

Source:  Does a mother's dental health affect her baby?    Tag:  dental xrays and pregnancy
When should we start thinking about our children's oral health?

Newborn babies do not yet have teeth - surely this is too early to worry about cavities or gum problems? 

What about during pregnancy?

Expectant mothers are keen to do everything they can for the health of their baby. However, many are unaware that  their own dental health problems can have effects on their general health and their unborn child. 

Research  has shown that mothers with gum disease have a three times greater risk of poor and pregnancy and birth outcomes such as pre-term deliveries and low birth weight. This can occur as bacteria from the mouth and their by-products have the ability to cross the placenta to the developing baby and trigger inflammatory responses. Another study has shown a link between gum disease and pregnancy (gestational) diabetes.

Also, mothers with poor oral health and high levels of the bacteria which cause dental decay are at greater risk of passing these bacteria to their newborn babies, putting them at an increased risk of developing dental cavities at an early age. For more information on this, click for the previous blog post.

Problems with oral health in pregnancy

Unfortunately, due to pregnancy hormones, some women can be more susceptible to gum problems during pregnancy.  Warning signs of periodontal (gum) disease include swelling, redness, bleeding and sensitivity.

Nausea and vomiting and extreme tiredness can also cause problems and lead to dental hygiene being neglected. Pregnancy cravings and the need to each more frequently may increase the risk of dental decay if sugary snacks are consumed often. 

Many women are concerned about the safety of dental treatment during pregnancy. However, treatment should not be unnecessarily delayed if appropriate safety precautions are taken. Active decay should be removed and the cavity filled. Pain and infection should not be left untreated, as these can cause stress and danger to both the mother and her developing baby. 

Guidance for expectant and new mothers
  • Remember that your own dental health can have an effect on your baby, both during pregnancy and after birth.
  • See a dentist for a consultation as soon as possible. Be sure to tell your dentist if you are pregnant as this may affect the treatment or medication prescribed. 
  • Cleaning (scaling and polishing) and many other treatments are safe during pregnancy, you can discuss the best options with your dentist. 
  • The second trimester (14th to 20th week) of pregnancy is usually the best time to get treatment done if required.
  • X-rays are generally avoided during pregnancy but if they are required for urgent treatment then small x-rays using a lead apron to protect the rest of your body can be taken.  
  • Maintain your oral health during pregnancy to prevent gum disease and decay. Try not to neglect brushing and flossing.
  • If you are having gum problems, in addition to regular professional cleaning, using a chlorhexidine (antibacterial) mouthwash may help.
  • Diet and nutrition is especially important during pregnancy. Although you will need to eat more frequently, try to choose snacks that are sugar free between meals.
  • Take your new baby to see a dentist when they are 1 year old. An early check-up enables the dentist to assess the risk factors for your child developing dental decay and give personalised preventive advice.