Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy
Women prepare for becoming pregnant by doing all sorts of things like increasing their folic acid intake, starting on pre-natal vitamins, and stopping birth control. Some women even start by consulting their physician to ensure that they are in top condition for having a baby. But one of the things we overlook that may have a major effect on the health of our pregnancy is periodontitis, or gum disease.
What could periodontitis possibly have to do with your pregnancy? A lot more than you may realize. Any infection during pregnancy is cause for concern and periodontitis in pregnant women has been shown to increase the risk of preterm labor and low birth weight. If pre-existing periodontal problems increase in severity during the pregnancy, the risk of these complications escalates. Because gum disease is often without obvious symptoms, it is a good idea for any woman planning to get pregnant to have a periodontal exam along with her other preparatory measures.
Because there are significant increases in levels of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, in the second or third month of the pregnancy, your gums may react differently to bacteria in plaque. This may cause redness, swelling, tenderness or bleeding in the gums. This “pregnancy gingivitis” may lead to more serious oral infections.
Women can greatly reduce their risk of pregnancy gingivitis by addressing periodontal issues before becoming pregnant. Steps for prevention include proper daily oral care and regular dental visits.
Signs of periodontal disease include:
- Bleeding gums during brushing and/or flossing
- Tender, swollen or red gums
- Receding gums
- Chronic bad breath
- Loose teeth
- Changes in your bite or the way your teeth come together
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your dentist at once.
Though many types of treatments are forbidden during pregnancy, dental care is not one of them. Most doctors encourage pregnant women with gum disease to seek treatment right away. Scaling and root planing, two common treatments of gum disease, are perfectly safe during pregnancy. You should, of course, always consult your physician before having any treatments and you should make sure that your dentist is fully aware of your pregnant state (don't ever assume that they can tell by your size, especially in the first and second trimester).
For more information on periodontal disease and pregnancy, visit the American Academy of Periodontology website at www.perio.org. There you can also find referrals to periodontists in your area and free brochures, including Women and Periodontal Disease.