Oral Health for Mother and Baby
Published and reviewed May 2009
Caring for a pregnant mother's teeth and gums should start before she becomes pregnant. Ideally women who are planning to get pregnant should visit their dentist and have any necessary work done before the pregnancy. Mothers should continue to visit their dentist for routine prevention visits during their pregnancy although elective procedures during the pregnancy are best done in the middle trimester. In the case of dental emergencies, any procedure may be performed at any time to insure the health of the mother. This includes dental x-rays, although an x-ray shielding apron should be worn to protect both the mother and the baby. In addition, your dentist may make some modifications in some medications used in considering the pregnancy. During the last trimester, consideration should also be given to the comfort of the mother. At this stage of the pregnancy sitting in a dental chair for a prolonged appointment may become uncomfortable so again some adjustments may have to be made.
Bleeding from the gums, when they are brushed or flossed, is a sign of gum disease. During pregnancy, as a result of hormonal changes, the gums may be more prone to inflammation and swelling. Until recently, gum disease during pregnancy had not been taken seriously. We now know however that the bacteria responsible for gum disease can also cause problems in places other than the mother’s mouth.
Past studies have demonstrated that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can increase the probability of a low birth-weight baby by one and half times. Smoking during pregnancy can increase the chances by one fold. Smoking and alcohol in combination can increase the probability by two and a half times. Some studies now suggest that a gum infection with the specific bacteria P. gingivalis, in a pregnant woman, can increase the chances of a low birth-weight baby by sevenfold. Certain gum disease-producing bacteria have also been implicated in the development of some forms of heart disease. For these reasons, it is imperative that pregnant mothers maintain excellent oral hygiene.
Expectant mothers can care for the baby’s teeth by following these rules for their own oral health:
• Eat a balanced diet
• Brush and floss daily to remove plaque
• Avoid sweet or starchy snacks
• Have regular dental examinations
An expectant mother's diet and oral hygiene can affect her baby's teeth. The baby’s teeth start developing in the 5th or 6th week after conception. A mother's balanced diet during pregnancy provides the calcium, phosphorous, other minerals, and vitamins needed for the baby’s teeth to form properly.
At birth, newborn babies do not have any of the bacteria that are responsible for either gum disease or tooth decay in their mouths. These germs are inoculated into their mouths after birth by close contact with family members. The greater the populations of all of these germs in the parent's and caregivers mouths, the greater the risk for transmission of these germs to the baby. It should be apparent from these facts that it is important for parents to maintain a high degree of oral health, even before the baby is born, to ensure that their baby will be healthier. By keeping their own teeth and gums healthy, expectant mothers and caregivers can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria in their own mouths that may be transferred to the baby. Regular brushing, flossing and routine visits to the dentist are essential. This is important since we also know that children that have a lot of cavities in the first few years of life are predisposed to developing more tooth decay for the rest of their lives.
Once the baby is born, the mouth should be cleaned after every meal by wiping the gums with the corner of a moistened face cloth. This is especially true if the baby is taking liquid medications, as these are very sticky. When the baby's first teeth arrive, they too should be cleaned with a face cloth after each feeding. By the time the molars appear, it is time to use a soft toothbrush to clean the teeth.
The American Dental Association recommends that the baby's first visit to the dentist should be by 1 year of age. A pediatric dentist can provide you with important information about caring for your child's developing teeth and gums.
Doron Kochman DDS
Doron Kochman DDS, FAAPD, Diplomate, American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry in the Department of Clinical Dentistry, at the University of Rochester Strong Memorial Hospital, and Eastman Dental Center. He is a board certified pediatric dentist and the founder of Pittsford Pediatric Dentistry where he currently practices. Dr. Kochman has lectured and published articles on pediatric dentistry.
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