Dental MythBuster #7 – Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Visit the Dentist

Photo showing no pregnant women allowed at the dentist

Pregnant women should go to the dentist. Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

This dental myth originates from the numerous calls we get to our office where an expecting patient states “I’m pregnant and I heard I shouldn’t go to the dentist.”

This also happens to be the second dental myth that involves either pregnant or post-partum women. In Dental Mythbuster #6, I dispelled the notion that an in-utero or nursing baby “sucked” the calcium out of the mother’s teeth leading to cavities.  In this post, I bust the myth that pregnant women either don’t need or should not receive dental care.

Pregnancy and Gums

During pregnancy, there are numerous hormonal changes that affect a woman, including changes to the gum tissue (called gingiva). Specifically, a woman’s hormones make her gum tissue extra sensitive to plaque and calculus around the teeth. As a result, inflammation around the gums develop. This inflammation is called gingivitis.

Photo or Picture of pregnancy gingivitis inflamed gums due to hormones while pregnant

Inflamed Gums showing Pregnancy Gingivitis. A regular dental cleaning without numbing during the pregnancy will address the gingivitis.

Pregnancy gingivitis affects between 50% to 75% of expecting mothers in the United States. Gingivitis left untreated during pregnancy can lead to gum and teeth problems after the pregnancy. There is also research to suggest that untreated gum problems can lead to preterm birth.

Most importantly, a regular dental cleaning without local anesthesia during pregnancy is totally safe. In my dental office in Orange, CT, I speak to the treating obstetrician if there is a concern. But after treating thousands of moms-to-be over the past several years, pregnant women can and should receive regular cleanings throughout the pregnancy. In fact, many dental insurance companies will pay for extra cleanings during pregnancy!

Pregnancy and Teeth

Cavity on tooth dental decay on pregnant mother on mom that is expecting

Cavity on one of my patients who delivered 11 months earlier.

It is well established that expecting and post-partum mothers are at higher risk for cavities (dental decay). I outlined this in a previous Dental MythBuster.  Untreated dental decay can lead to more serious problems including infections, dental abscesses, and significant pain – all conditions that can place both the mother and the unborn child at significant risk.

Just like with a cleaning, I always check with the patient’s obstetrician. Cosmetic or elective dental treatment is always postponed until after the pregnancy.  But procedures that address serious teeth problems – certain fillings, treatment of abscesses, root canals – can and should be done. On many occasions  I have had to treat a pregnant patient in severe pain or with a serious dental abscess – now that is a problem that can impact the pregnancy!

What to expect at the Dentist when you’re expecting

In this Dental MythBuster, I’ve shown that pregnant women should see the dentist. When I see a pregnant patient at her first cleaning since learning she is expecting, my hygienists and I always review what to expect with her teeth and gum tissue over the course of the pregnancy.  If any treatment is needed, we frequently consult with her obstetrician.

So, be sure to continue your regular dental checkups when you’re expecting. Your gums and teeth will thank you for it!

Dental MythBuster #6 – My baby stole the calcium from my teeth!

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:

Drawing of baby who stole the calcium from his mother's teeth leading to dental cavities

“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.

Picture of Bone in Thigh. Unlike teeth, bones are constantly being broken down for calicum.

Bone is used as a source of calcium.

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.

Tooth with a cavity or decay in a new mother, not because the baby stole her calcium

Photo of a tooth from one of my patients with an 8 month-old little one. The cavity is NOT because the baby “stole” calcium from her teeth!

There are several reasons for why new mothers have more cavities. I have observed all 4 of these personally in my private practice.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.