An old wives’ tale says a woman can expect to lose at least one tooth during every pregnancy but that does not have to be the case. Optimum oral hygiene during pregnancy is vital to the health of the mother and the baby she carries. Periodontal disease jeopardizes the health of a woman’s teeth and gums but it can also lead to a baby of low birth weight and premature delivery.

The earliest symptoms of periodontal disease seem minor, more annoying than alarming, so they are often overlooked. If left unattended, tooth decay, inflamed gums, tooth loss, and bone damage can occur.

Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory condition induced by bacteria, according to the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). The bacteria in the mouth of an expectant mother can enter the bloodstream of the baby she carries, as do the nutrients from the foods and beverages she consumes during pregnancy.

A woman’s periodontal disease can lead to preterm delivery, defined as birth before the 37th week of pregnancy, and a baby of low birth weight. A birth weight of less than 5.5 pounds is considered low but it is important to note that not every baby who weighs less at birth is at risk of health complications. Both preterm delivery and low birth weight can come with complications to the baby’s physical and neurological health.

Preterm birth is the #1 cause of death to newborn babies in the US. Non-fatal complications can include problems with hearing and vision, cerebral palsy, developmental problems, and chronic lung disease.

Early signs of periodontal disease include gums that are red, swollen, and tender, possibly bleeding when the teeth are brushed or while eating. Bad breath, a receding gum line, and loose teeth are also indicators of disease. These symptoms can usually be remedied without surgery when brought to the attention of a dentist but as many as 56 percent of women in the US never visit a dentist while they are pregnant. This number comes from data collected from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System between 2007 and 2009.  

Optimum oral hygiene, including dental check-ups, is vital to the health of an expectant mother and to her baby, too. Make these simple steps a routine part of every day, pregnant or not, for the healthiest mouth and teeth:

  • Brush twice every day.
  • Floss every day to reach the between-the-teeth crevices a toothbrush can’t.
  • Drink water to cleanse the mouth of food particles between brushing.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, many of which contain sugar that promotes bacterial growth. Carbonated beverages are also thought to leach important bone-building minerals such as calcium.
  • Avoid snacks, especially the sugary kind, between meals.
  • Choose sugarless chewing gum that contains xylitol, which helps neutralize acidity in the mouth. 

Vomiting associated with morning sickness introduces a high level of tooth-damaging acidity to the mouth so rinse the mouth with water after a bout of nausea but wait a while to brush the teeth. Acidity softens tooth enamel so allow about half an hour for the mouth’s pH to return to a healthy level.

Pregnancy doesn’t have to mean the loss of a tooth, but attention to the health of the mouth is vital for mother and baby.  

Source: "Expectant Mothers’ Periodontal Health Vital to Health of Her Baby." American Academy of Periodontology. Web. 16 Oct 2013.