pregnancy

Inflammation and Pregnancy

By Dr. Nammy Patel

Women have some special hormone-related challenges when it comes to oral health, and that’s particularly true regarding the changes your body experiences when you’re expecting a baby. With all you have to think about when you’re pregnant, your oral health is probably way down the list of priorities — but it shouldn’t be. In fact, seeing your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings should be right up there with your obstetric appointments in terms of your prenatal healthcare, because both are absolutely critical to your healthy pregnancy.

Many women avoid the dentist during pregnancy because they worry that somehow treatment is going to be dangerous to them or their baby. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you’re pregnant, you have probably noticed your gums are more tender or likely to bleed than they used to be. Please, don’t just shrug it off: That’s a sign that gum disease is taking hold and you need to deal with it now, not a few months down the road. Gum disease can impact not only your health but the health of your developing child, as well.

How is gum disease related to pregnancy? First, pregnant women are at greater risk for gum disease because of hormonal changes and increased blood flow. This can lead to what’s called pregnancy gingivitis: swollen, red, and tender gums that bleed easily when brushed or flossed. Untreated, this can lead to periodontitis or even loose teeth. This is probably the basis for the old saying, “A lost tooth for every child.” Fortunately, good oral care can prevent that unhappy outcome.

But it’s not just your welfare that’s at risk if avoid the dentist. Advanced periodontitis and chronic inflammation have been definitively linked to premature birth and low birth weight in babies1. They’ve even been associated with preeclampsia. When a woman’s body is ready to give birth, it releases hormones that start the labor process. One of these hormones is oxytocin, produced by the hypothalamus plus the prostaglandins, which stimulate the uterus to contract. When a pregnant woman has gum disease, that inflammation triggers an increase in immune response, which, in turn, spurs the production of prostaglandins as well as TNF, and the cytokines interleukin 1 and 6. These can cause the uterine membrane to rupture, triggering early contractions and premature birth.

So, get to your yoga class, decorate your nursery, and pick out the perfect name for your baby — but don’t neglect your oral health. If you haven’t been too careful about regularly flossing in the past, now is a good time to develop that excellent habit, along with brushing more thoroughly and more often than you might usually do. Both you and your baby will be healthier and happier. Tell your dentist if you’re pregnant or think you might be so that she or he can take the necessary precautions and treat you appropriately.

Don’t forget your baby’s teeth: take your multivitamins because the embryo’s tooth buds start developing after twenty-eight days of gestation.

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1Saini R1, Saini S, Saini SR.J
Periodontitis: A risk for delivery of premature labor and low birth weight infants.
Nat Sci Biol Med. 2011 Jan;2(1):50-2. doi: 10.4103/0976-9668.82321.

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