As a general dentist practicing in Orange, CT, I have the privilege of treating patients of all ages, including both expecting and postpartum mothers. The number one dental myth I hear from these patients is the following:
“I didn’t have any cavities until I became pregnant. Then my baby sucked the calcium out of my teeth which is why I have all these new cavities now!”
This is always a difficult dental myth to “bust.” First, the concept of losing calcium from bones is well established and patients frequently assume bones and teeth are similar. Secondly, this dental myth is so widely circulated among pregnant and new mothers that many don’t want to believe me when I try to “bust” it!
About Calcium, Teeth, and Bone
Teeth, like bone, are comprised of hard minerals, with calcium being one of the key components. Tooth enamel is harder than bone and is actually the hardest substance in the body! Adult teeth begin to develop at a very young age and continue to mature until approximately age 16 (except for wisdom teeth). By age 16, your teeth are no longer developing and the strong enamel layer no longer requires nutrients from your bloodstream. So at this point a deficiency of calcium in your diet will not affect your teeth, because your teeth are no longer forming.
This is in direct contrast to bone which is constantly being reformed in response to dietary, hormonal, and other factors. Every single day, small parts of your bones are naturally dissolved and then re-formed. Calcium is needed for this process and a deficiency of calcium can lead to weaker bones. This is one of the main reasons why older patients frequently take Vitamin D and Calcium – it is to enhance the strength of their bones.
So, many patients assume that because bones constantly require a source of calcium, then teeth must as well. And with a growing baby in utero and/or nursing baby taking nutrients from the mother, people assume their teeth are having nutrients taken away. Not true!
New Mothers and Tooth Cavities
So this brings up the question: do new mothers have greater amounts of tooth decay? And if so, why? Well, the answer to the first question is Yes! New mothers do have higher rates of dental decay.
There are several reasons for why new mothers have more cavities. I have observed all 4 of these personally in my private practice.
- Morning Sickness: not all pregnant patients experience this. However, even occasional vomiting in the morning brings up very acidic stomach contents which can quickly erode your teeth, leading to decay.
- Acid Reflux: pregnant women are more likely to experience acid reflux due to the pressure on their stomach from the growing baby. This can also lead to stomach acid entering the mouth to erode the teeth.
- Changes in Oral Hygiene: let’s face it, being a Mom is hard work! Many new mothers spend so much time focusing on their new child that they neglect to brush and floss consistently. This can easily lead to new cavities.
- Changes in Diet: with pregnancy and nursing, some women will start eating sugary foods they did not typically consume before. Increased sugar intake can lead to increased decay.
In addition to dental decay, pregnant and nursing mothers are also at risk for Pregnancy Gingivitis which will be covered in a future post.