Why Oral Hygiene is So Important During Pregnancy

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy when you’re expecting holds benefits for you—and baby.

Medically reviewed in January 2021

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are typically inundated with appointments and a range of health concerns. As a consequence, making regular trips to the dentist and maintaining healthy teeth and gums may fall by the wayside.

That fact is, though, women are prone to developing conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis during pregnancy, which makes proper oral care especially important during this time.

What is gum disease?
Also referred to as periodontal disease, gum disease is a common but largely preventable condition, and its symptoms may go unnoticed, especially in the early stages. It begins when bacteria-laden plaque accumulates between your gums and teeth, causing inflammation. In serious cases, it can become painful and may affect the supporting structures around the teeth, leading to problems including tooth loss.

Gum disease occurs in different stages. Gingivitis, a mild form of the condition marked by red, swollen or bleeding gums, is caused by irritation by plaque along the gum line. Plaque can be removed with daily brushing, but when it stays on your teeth, it can harden into tartar. Tartar traps bacteria and can only be removed through dental cleanings. The good news is that gingivitis can often be reversed with good oral care and regular trips to the dentist.

If left untreated, gingivitis may eventually progress into periodontitis, a serious condition causing gums to recede from the teeth, creating pockets that become infected. As it worsens, the condition can destroy the tissues and bone that hold the teeth in place, causing teeth to loosen.

A few warning signs for gum disease include:

  • Bad breath
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that easily bleed
  • Pain or trouble chewing
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Changes in bite

Gum disease and pregnancy
While anyone can get gum disease, pregnant women can have an increased risk of developing the condition, due to fluctuating hormones and increased blood volume. If you had poor oral hygiene before pregnancy, the effects of gum disease could increase during this time. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of pregnant women have some form of periodontal disease.

Periodontitis is considered a risk factor for certain pregnancy complications, including preterm labor or low birth weight. One possible explanation is that the same bacteria that inflame the gums could end up in a woman’s bloodstream and target the fetus. Inflammation stemming from gum disease that spreads throughout the body may also have an impact. Researchers are still investigating the link between poor oral health and pregnancy, including whether treating gum disease during pregnancy can help improve birth outcomes.

In addition to hormonal changes, other risk factors for gum disease include smoking and other tobacco use, diabetes, certain medications, poor nutrition, lack of access to dental care, dry mouth, conditions that affect immunity, stress, heredity and poor or older dental work.

Treating gum disease
Although there isn’t strong evidence that suggests gum disease treatment may reduce premature birth and low birthweight, there is also no harm in taking steps to treat the condition during pregnancy if you haven’t been able to do so before getting pregnant. There are a number of options that may be recommended by your dentist or doctors. Any treatment plan will depend upon the severity of your gum disease, stage of pregnancy and other factors.

Professional cleanings: A routine dental cleaning can be effective in reversing the early stages of gum disease. Cleanings are safe to continue during pregnancy. Your dentist may recommend a more frequent cleaning schedule as well. It’s also suggested that women who plan to conceive should visit a dentist for preventive care prior to getting pregnant.

Good oral hygiene: Regular brushing, flossing and rinsing at home is a necessary part of any treatment plan and could reverse the effects of mild gum disease. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist about proper technique and how often is best for you.

Prescription mouth rinse: Your dentist may prescribe a special type of mouthwash to control bacteria. Check with your OBGYN about which rinses may be safe to take during pregnancy.

Antibiotics: A round of pregnancy-approved antibiotics can help fight bacterial infection in the mouth. Be sure to consult your OBGYN before taking any medications during pregnancy. Also disclose any allergies you might have to your doctor.

Scaling and root planning or deep cleaning: For more severe stages of gum disease, this procedure scrapes tartar from above and below the gum line and removes rough spots on the tooth’s root where germs collect. Check with your OBGYN on the best timing for completing this type of treatment.

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