Pregnancy is an exciting time that often leads to some big life changes. Most expectant mothers look for ways to take better care of their bodies by dropping unhealthy habits and taking prenatal vitamins. Learning about potential health risks is key to a happy, healthy baby and smooth pregnancy. But there’s one area that’s often overlooked - your dental health. Periodontal disease creates acute risks during pregnancy that every expectant mother should know about.

Research has shown that periodontal disease during pregnancy may expose an unborn child to health complications. Learn what periodontal disease is, the potential risks to your child, how to avoid it, and the recommended treatment.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease arises as a result of infection and inflammation of the gums and teeth-supporting bone. It can be caused or worsened by factors like an active smoking habit or diabetes. The early stage is known as gingivitis, where the gums can become swollen, red, and prone to bleeding.

As the condition grows more severe, gingivitis becomes periodontitis, and the gums will start pulling away from the teeth. The teeth can become loose or fall out, and some of the bone mass holding the teeth in place may be lost. The risk of developing periodontitis increases with age. While the condition is more common in men than women, it can be particularly detrimental to pregnant women. Hormonal changes during pregnancy also put women at a higher risk of developing periodontitis.

Risk Factors for Periodontitis

    An active smoking habit
    Poor oral health or hygiene
    High levels of stress
    Crooked teeth
    Immuno-deficiency diseases like AIDS
    Defective teeth fillings
    Genetic predisposition to oral health problems

The cause of periodontitis is bacteria, but the type of bacteria that causes periodontitis can vary from person to person. Bacteria present in the mouth can infect tissue surrounding the tooth, and with time, it can lead to plaque buildup.

With time, the plaque hardens to become tartar (a.k.a calculus). It can spread below the gum line, at which point it is impossible to treat at home or remove through normal oral cleaning methods. Only a dentist can remove the tartar and stop it from spreading once the gingivitis has turned into periodontitis.

What Are The Risks for Me And My Child?

Oral health problems like periodontitis can significantly affect your overall health. Bacteria from infected gums can travel through the bloodstream causing or exacerbating conditions like heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, pneumonia, and most notably for pregnant women, premature birth.

Periodontal disease increases levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) levels while heightening the body’s natural inflammatory response. Research reveals that CRP is associated with not only heart complications but preeclampsia and premature birth.

Advanced periodontal disease has been shown to increase levels of prostaglandin in mothers. Prostaglandin is a labor-inducing compound and can induce premature labor in expecting mothers. Low birth weight, along with other health complications can arise when mothers deliver earlier than expected, and it can lead to complications even while your child is growing up.

If you have been diagnosed with periodontitis, following a dentist-recommended treatment plan is crucial to minimize the risk of premature birth.

The Risks of Premature Birth

The leading cause of newborn death is preterm birth. The risk of infant mortality is up to 40 times higher than a baby born around the expected delivery date.

While modern medicine is getting better at saving the lives of babies following premature birth, it’s still exceptionally difficult on the child and the entire family. Risk factors like periodontitis should be avoided as much as possible.

How Common is Periodontal Disease for Pregnant women?

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health, around 40% of pregnant women will suffer from some form of periodontal disease. Another 2015 study published in Frontiers in Public Health revealed that for those already suffering from periodontal disease before pregnancy, changing hormonal levels can accelerate the progression of the condition.

Warning Signs of Periodontitis

    Continual bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
    Swollen and red gums
    Bleeding gums
    Loose or sensitive teeth
    Pain while chewing
    Change in teeth bite alignment

Diagnosis and Treatment of Periodontitis

Almost 75% of pregnant women suffer from gingivitis, according to the CDC. If a dentist has diagnosed you with periodontitis, it’s important to follow their directions to resolve the condition as soon as possible. They may suggest deep teeth cleaning, along with oral medications. In severe cases, corrective surgery may be recommended.

Avoiding Periodontal Disease

Like most other conditions that impact oral health, dental hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent periodontal disease. Brushing your teeth and flossing every day can go a long way in preventing the disease.

Regular dental checkups and opting for professional dental cleaning are crucial if gingivitis has progressed. Schedule a regular dentist appointment every six months, even when you don’t have any symptoms. If you are a few months into your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to go to the dentist as a precaution.

Oral Health for Your Baby’s Well-being

A premature birth can be devastating to your growing family, but caring for your dental health during pregnancy with good dental habits and regular check-ups can eliminate periodontitis as a risk factor. Keep your teeth healthy for a healthy pregnancy.

Author's Bio: 

Tess DiNapoli is an artist, freelance writer, and content strategist. She has a passion for yoga and often writes about health and wellness, but also enjoys covering the fashion industry and world of fitness.