Why Mouth Health is So Important During Pregnancy

Taking care of your teeth and gums can help you have a healthier pregnancy.

pregnant person brushing teeth

Updated on March 20, 2024.

Mouth care is more important than ever when you’re pregnant. The hormonal changes of pregnancy and increased blood volume can cause inflammation in the gums, causing them to become red and swollen. Left untreated, this can lead to infection and even bone or tooth loss. If you smoke, have diabetes (high blood sugar levels), take certain medications, eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods, or have poor or older dental work, these factors can also increase your risk for gum disease and cavities.

Here's what to know about gum disease and pregnancy, and your treatment options.

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-filled deposits called plaque accumulate between your gums and teeth, causing inflammation. In serious cases, gum disease can become painful and may affect the supporting structures around the teeth, which can lead to tooth loss.

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

If left untreated, gingivitis may eventually progress into periodontitis, a serious condition that causes 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.

Signs of gum disease include:

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

Gum disease and pregnancy

For those who already have gum disease before pregnancy, its effects could increase during pregnancy. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of pregnant people have some form of gum disease.

Gum disease doesn’t just affect your smile, it can increase the risk for certain pregnancy complications, including preterm labor and low birth weight. One possible explanation is that the same bacteria that inflame the gums could enter your bloodstream, where they can be transmitted to the fetus. Inflammation stemming from gum disease that spreads throughout the body may also have an impact. Researchers are still investigating the link between mouth health and pregnancy, including whether treating gum disease can help support a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Treating gum disease

Even though we don’t know for sure if treating gum disease can reduce premature birth and low birthweight, it is still a good idea to treat the condition during pregnancy. There are a number of options that may be recommended by your dentist or healthcare providers. The treatment plan will depend upon the severity of your gum disease, your 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. If you are planning to conceive, consider visiting a dentist for preventive care prior to getting pregnant.

Regular mouth care: 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 to demonstrate proper cleaning techniques and to recommend the best at-home cleaning schedule for you.

Prescription mouth rinse: Your dentist may prescribe a special type of antibacterial mouthwash to combat gingivitis. Check with your OBGYN about which rinses are safe to take during pregnancy.

Antibiotics: Pregnancy-approved antibiotics can help fight bacterial infection in the mouth. Be sure to consult your OBGYN before taking any medications during pregnancy. Also tell your healthcare provider about any allergies you might have.

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

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CDC. Pregnancy and Oral Health. Last reviewed March 18, 2022.

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