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An expectant mother needs to keep track of everything from scheduling OBGYN appointments, to attending childbirth classes, to shopping for baby gear. Many moms-to-be might try to squeeze in pedicures before they would add dentist appointments to their packed calendars. But current research suggests that dental care is extremely important in pregnancy.
The American Academy of Family Physicians' research suggests that some prenatal oral conditions may have adverse consequences for the child. Periodontitis is associated with preterm birth and low birth weight. Every pregnant woman should be screened for oral risks, counseled on proper oral hygiene, and referred for dental treatment when necessary.
However, a 2009 study of oral health during pregnancy, conducted by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found that OBGYNs recognize the importance of good oral health during pregnancy but largely do not address it. They trust their patients to seek regular dental care.
Some women may avoid dental care because they think it isn't safe during pregnancy. Dr. Garrett Sparks, who has a family dentistry practice in Jackson, said those worries are unfounded.
"It is always important to let your dentist know that you are pregnant," he said. "Most pregnant patients can be treated similarly to other patients."
Even dental X-rays are safe. If a woman wears a lead apron over her abdominal and thyroid areas, her exposure to radiation is negligible.
Another reason women may avoid the dentist during pregnancy is increased gum sensitivity. This, however, is a symptom of pregnancy gingivitis.
"Gingivitis is an infection of the gums that can cause bleeding, swelling and some sensitivity," Sparks said. "It is caused by plaque on your teeth. During pregnancy, an increased level of progesterone can enhance the body's response to plaque, causing pregnancy gingivitis. In this case, you will want to make sure you brush at least twice a day and may even need more frequent cleanings."
By avoiding brushing because of pain, "the plaque grows more and makes the gingivitis worse," he said.
Other moms may think dental care during the childbearing years is a lost cause, remembering the old saying: "Every child costs the mother a tooth." Sparks has another theory.
"During pregnancy, many women have a greater desire to snack between meals," he said. "This can increase the presence of caries-producing bacteria, making the pregnant woman more likely to develop decay. It's important to pick nutritious snacks and to brush afterwards."
The Journal of the American Dental Association says a mothers' oral health status is a strong predictor of the oral health status of their children, suggestive further that prgnant women should take proper dental care.