Throughout the three trimesters of pregnancy, there are a lot of medical appointments to make. If you’re like most women, it’s more than any other time in your life. While the thought of extra dental appointments might sound like a hassle you’d like to avoid, it’s important to remember that taking good care of your baby starts before birth. And it starts with taking care of yourself.
For me, a 31-year old working mom with a 14-month old daughter at home, my schedule is packed already. When my dental hygienist suggested I should schedule an additional cleaning during my second pregnancy, I can admit that like most busy moms might, it was something I considered skipping! But after digging deeper and discussing it with my dental hygienist, I learned that this extra visit was an important part of my prenatal care as a whole. Preventive dental care – both at the dentist and at home – is especially important for me now, as gum disease has been linked to higher incidence of both preterm labor and low birth weight babies.
“It’s important to educate pregnant patients about the link between gum disease and early labor and low birth weight,” says Lisa Fabrizio, the Registered Dental Hygienist who has been a part of my dental care team at Chestnut Hills Dental in Pittsburgh, PA. “If she isn’t a flosser, I encourage her to start now because the mechanical removal of bacteria is so important to keep your mouth healthy and prevent infection.”
Before pregnancy, my dentist diagnosed me with gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal (gum) disease. During my first pregnancy, I began to notice more intense symptoms like tender, swollen gums that bled easily when brushing or flossing. Because of these symptoms, I often avoided flossing and brushed very lightly, which is actually the opposite of what you should do. Eventually, I experienced spots on my gums that would bleed from the slightest touch. When I finally visited my dentist, my gum disease had progressed to the point of requiring extensive, specialized dental cleanings and care long after my daughter’s birth.
Now during my second pregnancy, I have been determined to make oral health a priority. This time around, I was ready to see Lisa and discuss the steps I needed to continue to do at home to keep my mouth healthy. Thanks to her suggestion, I scheduled an extra dental cleaning during my third trimester, making it only three months since I had last seen my dentist for my regularly scheduled exam. I also checked my dental insurance coverage so that I was aware of my out-of-pocket expenses ahead of time. (Some plans provide enhanced benefits to pregnant women who have gum disease.)
During the visit, Lisa evaluated my mouth and, due to my history with gum disease, recommended a deep cleaning, otherwise known as scaling and root planing. She used an ultrasonic scaler to conduct a very thorough cleaning of my teeth, using water pressure to remove the plaque known to cause gum disease. Next, my teeth were polished with a fluoride paste. Finally, she irrigated some areas of my gums with chlorhexidine gluconate, a medicated mouthwash used to help treat gingivitis.
Since this extra dental cleaning, I have noticed a much-appreciated change in my mouth. My gums are less tender and red, and bleeding during brushing and flossing has been significantly reduced, continuing to improve as I stick with my at-home oral health routine. Now my smile is glowing along with the rest of me and with two more months to go until my little one’s arrival, I have one less complication to worry about. We’re ready to focus on our healthy future together!
Lisa recommended the following dental care tips for me during my pregnancy. Since everyone’s situation is unique, always talk to your dentist about what’s best for you.
- Brush three times a day, with special attention toward the gum line, and floss once a day.
- Rinse with a warm saltwater mixture once a day.
- Return for another cleaning and exam in three months, due to the degree of my pregnancy gingivitis and intentions to breastfeed after birth (like pregnancy, breastfeeding can also affect hormone levels and contribute to gum disease).
To learn more, check out the resources I helped put together with our dental experts at UnitedConcordia.com/Pregnancy. You’ll find tons of information there about oral health during pregnancy, including signs and symptoms to watch for, dental care tips and the link between gum disease and preterm low birth weight.