Lots of changes happen throughout your body when you're pregnant, and while you may have been expecting the morning sickness and the mood swings, you probably weren't warned about the oral health problems that can come with pregnancy. During pregnancy, you are at risk of developing severe gum disease, also called periodontitis. Here's what you need to know about this major oral health problem.
What causes periodontitis?
Bacteria inside your mouth cause periodontitis. When you brush and floss your teeth, these bacteria are cleaned away, but if you don't clean your teeth well enough, the bacteria stays put and irritates your gum tissue. This leads to an infection of the gum tissue, called gingivitis. If this initial infection isn't treated, it will spread from your gums to other parts of your mouth. When the infection reaches the ligaments and bones underneath your teeth, it is called periodontitis.
What does pregnancy have to do with your gums?
Periodontitis is caused by poor oral hygiene, but your pregnancy hormones can help to exacerbate the problem. When you're pregnant, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body increase, and when this happens, more blood flows to your gum tissue. This makes your gums red and swollen, and also more susceptible to attacks by the bacteria inside your mouth.
Do all pregnant women develop periodontitis?
Getting pregnant doesn't always lead to the development of severe gum disease, but it's a fairly common problem. One study examined 810 pregnant women in the maternity ward of a teaching hospital and discovered that 11% of them had periodontitis.
Gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, is a lot more common. Different studies have reported a wide range of prevalence rates, depending on the population studied, but they all agree that gingivitis is extremely common. Between 35% and 100% of pregnant women develop gingivitis during their pregnancies.
How is periodontitis treated?
Dentists can treat periodontitis in a few different ways. The first step is a deep cleaning called scaling and root planing. This deep cleaning removes all of the plaque and bacteria from your mouth, which removes the source of the infection and gives your gums the opportunity to heal themselves. During the scaling portion of the treatment, your dentist will scrape your teeth and gumline clean with metal tools. Next, it will be time for root planing, and the dentist will smooth the roots of your teeth, which will make it harder for plaque to accumulate there.
If scaling and root planing isn't enough, there are other options. You may be given antibiotics, either in the form of pills or a mouth rinse, to kill the bacteria. Surgery is also possible; if you need this, the infected gum tissue will be cut away, which keeps the infection from spreading any further.
Can periodontitis affect your baby?
Periodontitis is a problem for you, but it can also affect your baby. Research has shown that the bacteria that cause periodontitis can get into your bloodstream and reach your developing baby. This bacteria can lead to your baby being born prematurely or having a low birth weight. The bacteria can also cause uterine rupture, a serious situation that can kill not only your baby but you as well.
These complications are scary, but, fortunately, periodontitis is very treatable. With a little help from your dentist, both you and your baby can be safe and healthy.
Brushing and flossing regularly are important for everyone, but they're especially important for pregnant women. A good oral hygiene routine can help prevent gum disease, and keep both your teeth and your baby safe. If your gums are red and sore, you may already have some degree of gum disease, and should see your family dental professional immediately.