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Brushing Up On Oral Health

 

pregnant woman brushing her teeth


Did you know that having a healthy mouth can improve your overall health? 
 

Your mouth is an ideal environment for bacteria to live in—warm, moist and there’s a continuous supply of food! If bacteria aren’t kept in check with good oral care then inflammation and infections can happen, not only in the mouth but throughout the rest of the body too.
 

Why is taking care of your oral health important during pregnancy?

 
Hormonal changes can cause red, swollen gums that bleed easily with brushing and flossing. This is known as pregnancy gingivitis and it can start anytime in the second trimester or later. It’s very common and should go away after your baby is born. 
 
However, it is important to take care of your oral health during pregnancy to help prevent pregnancy gingivitis from worsening to periodontal disease (PDF, 1 page). This puts moms-to-be at risk of:
  • Delivering a pre-term baby
  • Delivering a baby with a low birth weight
  • Having pre-eclampsia (pregnancy hypertension)

Six factors that contribute to poor oral health during pregnancy…and what you can you do about them

 

1. Hormone changes 

You can’t change your pregnancy hormones, but you can reduce the impact they have on your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing regularly.
 
Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. Use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. It’s also important to floss every day to clean plaque from between your teeth and gums (where your brush doesn’t reach).

BONUS TIP: Many people have a strong gag reflex during pregnancy, which can make it challenging to brush and floss. You will need to find what strategies work for you, but here are a few you might want to try:
  • Change the flavour of your toothpaste
  • Use a toothbrush with a smaller head (e.g., a toddler-sized toothbrush)
  • Use floss sticks so you don’t have to put your fingers in your mouth
  • Brush or floss at times of the day when your nausea is less
  • Stop and spit often when brushing
  • Take a break midway through flossing if you need a breather
  • Focus on your breathing (it’s good practice for labour too!)
  • Listen to your favourite song or silently sing a song in your head as a distraction

2. Lack of regular dental care

About half of all Canadians who haven’t seen an oral health professional in the past year have gum disease. Regular dental care may reverse early gum disease or slow its progression. Your oral health professional will clean your teeth and check for early signs of an oral health problem.
 
Schedule a dental check-up and cleaning in your first trimester and remember to tell your oral health professional that you’re pregnant. If your first trimester came and went without a dental check-up, it isn’t too late. A cleaning and check-up is good at any point in pregnancy. If you need to have dental work done (e.g., have a cavity filled), the best time is during the second trimester.

BONUS TIP: If you have nausea, try booking your appointment for a time of day when your nausea is less. 
 

3. Vomiting

Stomach acid from vomit can cause damage to tooth enamel. Since nausea and vomiting are common during pregnancy, this may be more of a problem than usual.
 
If you vomit, rinse your mouth with plain water or a fluoride mouthwash right away to get rid of the awful taste and remove the stomach acid from your teeth. Wait for 30 minutes before brushing your teeth so you don’t damage your teeth by brushing the acid into your enamel.


4. Low calcium levels

Calcium helps repair (remineralize) your teeth from the wear-and-tear caused by acids from vomit, food and drinks. Calcium is also necessary during pregnancy for the proper growth and development of your baby’s bones and teeth. If your calcium levels are low you’re more likely to get cavities—and your baby will have to use calcium from YOUR bones to support their bone and tooth development.
 
During pregnancy, getting 1,000 mg of calcium each day (or 1,300 mg/day if you’re under 19 years old) is recommended. Dairy products and fortified soy beverages are a top source of calcium, but they’re not the only sources. Learn more about calcium in foods from unlockfood.ca.  

BONUS TIP: If you avoid calcium-rich foods and drinks, you may benefit from taking a calcium supplement. Talk to your healthcare provider to decide if a supplement is right for you.


5. Foods and drinks high in sugar

Sugary foods and drinks lead to the build-up of plaque that can cause cavities and gum disease.  Pregnancy hormones already put you at risk for pregnancy gingivitis, which makes it even more important to prevent plaque build-up.
 
Choose healthy food and drinks throughout your pregnancy to limit plaque build-up. When munching between meals, choose snacks that are low in sugar, such as cheese, nuts and vegetables and make water your drink of choice. For more information about healthy eating check out Canada’s food guide.


6. Substance use

Your oral health and overall health, as well as the health and safety of your baby are at risk if you use substances, such as tobacco, alcohol or other recreational drugs.
 
Tell your healthcare provider if you have been using tobacco, alcohol or other recreational drugs during pregnancy so they can help you and your baby get the medical care you need and support you to quit if you choose. It’s never too late to quit (or cut back) for a healthier baby.

These are some additional support services available in your community: Keeping smiles pearly white and breath minty fresh is socially important, but it’s just the tip of the dental iceberg! If you needed an extra nudge to commit a few minutes each day to oral healthcare, then we hope we’ve given it! It only takes a few minutes to make a difference to your overall health and the health of your unborn baby.

Your child's developmental milestones:

Want more stage and age-specific information? Visit our website to read about your child’s development and get more activities and healthy living tips:

Learn more

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