Dental Issues in Pregnancy

With the increase in hormone levels during pregnancy comes a whole range of dental issues that the pregnant woman can expect.  These will affect her oral health and can include:

  • Morning sickness including feelings of nausea and vomiting episodes;
  • Sore and swollen gums.  If an underlying gum disease exists, an exacerbation of this condition can occur;
  • Gum ulceration;
  • Occasionally there is a gum growth that occurs called a pyrogenic granuloma;
  • Mobile teeth;
  • Decreased salivary flow, that can lead to a dry mouth sensation;
  • Cravings and snacking to reduce nausea; and / or
  • The need to eat smaller meals more frequently.

Dental Protocol for the Pregnant Woman

Before Pregnancy

  1. Full check up and examination;
  2. Set of radiographs as necessary, usually bitewings only;
  3. Proper Scale and Clean by a Dental Hygienist; and
  4. Education as to what to expect with oral changes and preventative measures during pregnancy.

If a gum condition is diagnosed, it may be necessary to undertake further gum cleaning.  This may include approximately two to four appointments with a Dental Hygienist.  A check is required one month post treatment, to ensure that the condition has stabilised.

If there was no check up and examination prior to pregnancy, then it is best to wait until late in the first trimester for a full examination and clean, with a set of bitewing radiographs (clinical call after appropriate discussion with patient).  Dental radiographs are safe to be used.  However, if possible, it is best not to have dental radiographs done in the first six weeks of pregnancy.

General Prevention

Prevention is the key for the pregnant women due to the physical changes and also habit changes causing the oral environment to be more susceptible to dental decay, gum disease and other irritating oral problems.

  1. A full clean every three to four months during pregnancy.  Ideally these would be done just before the pregnancy, late in the first trimester, late in the second trimester and just before delivery.  It may be necessary that more than one appointment is required to return the periodontal tissue (gums and supporting tissues of the teeth) to base line health or, at the minimum, a stable condition.  It has been speculated in current literature that there is a link between poor gum health and preterm and low birth weight delivery.
  2. Use a fluoride mouthwash, containing no alcohol, every night before bed or after a vomiting event.  The eating or drinking of basic pH foods, such as yoghurt, milk and cheese, will also help to rebalance the oral pH.  Even chewing sugar free gum will help the salivary flow to achieve this.
  3. Clean teeth 2-3 times daily.  We would encourage three times daily.  DO NOT CLEAN STRIAGHT AFTER A VOMITING EVENT.  WAIT AT LEAST 1 HR AFTER THE EVENT.  Vomiting events also cause not only a decreased oral pH, but also an increase in the direct acidic attack on the teeth.  Luckily, the teeth are always in a state of breakdown and repair.  Swishing extra fluoride across the teeth, enables the repair mechanism to work more efficiently and the repaired structure is stronger against further attacks.  Cleaning teeth directly after a vomiting event is damaging.  Using a fluoridated, alcohol free mouthwash or chewing sugar free gum is a better way to freshen breath.
  4. Watch for snacking.  Having regular meals, at least 1-2 hours apart is ideal.  If at all possible, DO NOT CONSTANTLY SNACK IF POSSIBLE.
  5. If feeling nauseous, avoid fatty foods and foods that are highly acidic or spicy.
  6. If using indigestion or reflux formulations, ensure that they are sugar free.
  7. In the case of gingival ulceration (gum ulcers), warm salty water mouthwashes are appropriate.  If necessary, a chlorhexidine or a low strength peroxide based mouthwash can be used.  Only use this mouthwash while symptoms persist and do not swallow.
  8. It is important that the mother-to-be is informed of any medical changes recommended by her doctor, e.g. if they are placed on anti-coagulant medication, so that this information can be passed onto the dentist.
  9. Condition such as mobile teeth will return to normal post birth.  Pyrogenic Granuloma’s can be dealt with if necessary by removing them, but by removing the stimulator factors like plaque and calculus, caught under the swollen tissue’s will help to control these issues.  Otherwise this condition is best left until after the birth, generally after 6 weeks.

Why?

Having the ability to diagnose prior to pregnancy is the most important aspect of this protocol.  If this time has passed, then late in the first trimester is the other appropriate time for diagnosis, allowing any necessary treatment to be carried out in the second trimester, if necessary.

By taking a preventative approach we can reduce the likelihood of dental issues developing down the track.  It is necessary that, while a mother-to-be is in a phase of her life where medical issues are of an upmost priority, that the dentist is also involved in the initial stages.  This will enable any dental conditions to be diagnosed early and treated at the most appropriate times.

Appropriate Treatment Times

  1. If possible, any necessary treatment should be carried out in the second trimester.  Always watch the supine position especially late in the second trimester and third trimester, the right hip should be elevated 10-15cm.  Try and find an appropriate time that suits the women, usually mornings are not appropriate, be guided by the mother to be.
  2. Emergency treatment can be carried out whenever necessary.  There is more risk to the baby from being stressed due to pain, anxiety, or having an ongoing infection, than from having dental treatment carried out, at any stage.
  3. Elective procedures should be carried out at least 6 weeks post birth.

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