If you asked the average parent to name the roster of a prenatal healthcare team, they are bound to mention a few key players: the family doctor, obstetrician/gynecologist, sonographer, and perhaps the midwife.
What about the dental hygienist?
Parents and healthcare providers often overlook the importance of oral health during pregnancy. However, multiple studies have indicated a link between poor oral health and adverse outcomes in pregnancy.
A comprehensive overview of research on this subject demonstrated that associations exist between periodontitis during pregnancy and pre-term birth, low birth weight babies, and preeclampsia.
Common Dental Problems During Pregnancy
In particular, there are four oral health conditions that become more prevalent during pregnancy:
- Dental caries/cavities
- Pyogenic granuloma
- Dental erosion
We’ve provided an overview of these four common dental problems during pregnancy, along with how dentists and dental hygienists can play a greater role in providing care to pregnant patients.
1. Pregnancy Gingivitis
During pregnancy, the body’s response to gingivitis-causing bacteria in the periodontal tissue changes. Some studies speculate the change is triggered by hormonal fluctuations, such as increased salivary estrogen levels during the second and third trimesters.
As a result, patients who had periodontitis before pregnancy may find that inflammation increases throughout the pregnancy. Those with no prior history of gum disease may develop periodontitis or notice increased bleeding and gingival crevicular fluid flow.
2. Dental Caries in Pregnancy
The risk of developing dental caries or cavities often increases during pregnancy. Patients may be affected by one or more contributing factors:
- Decrease in salivary pH due to changes in diet;
- Increase in acidity in the mouth due to vomiting;
- Dry mouth; or
- Poor oral hygiene care due to nausea and vomiting.
3. Oral Pyogenic Granuloma
Pyogenic granuloma appears as a small tissue overgrowth on the gums that can be smooth or lobulated and red or pink. These lesions are sometimes called ‘pregnancy tumours’ because they are more common in pregnant patients; however, pyogenic granuloma is not cancerous and often disappears without treatment.
Though not harmful, a pyogenic granuloma can be painful and unsightly.
4. Dental Erosion During Pregnancy
Patients who experience morning sickness or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in pregnancy may develop greater erosion of dental enamel. Although there is no way to reverse dental erosion that has already occurred, dental professionals can assist in preventing and reducing its effects.
Assisting Patients with Common Dental Problems During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be a critical time for a patient’s oral health. Not only does it increase the risk of these common dental problems, but poor oral health care is linked to outcomes like preterm birth, low birth weight, and preeclampsia.
There are many ways in which dental hygienists can help contribute to positive outcomes through good oral health care at all stages of pregnancy:
- Encourage patients to have regular dental checkups during pregnancy, even if they are accustomed to seeing the dentist only once or twice a year. Emphasize the added importance of oral health care during this time in their lives.
- Be non-judgemental about new concerns the patient may have about dental treatment during their pregnancy. Many people have heightened concerns about medications, fluoride treatment, and dental x-rays during this time; answer their questions with patience.
- Reinforce the benefits of good oral hygiene care: twice-daily brushing for two minutes at a time, once-daily flossing, and using toothpaste with fluoride.
- Ask about any new medications or supplements the patient may be taking during pregnancy.
Celebrating Hygiene Month
We all have dental hygienists to thank for being a part of our healthcare team throughout different stages of our lives, including the journey towards parenthood. This is the second in a series of articles we’ve published on this important role during Hygiene Month: a month to recognize hygienists and emphasize the importance of good oral hygiene.
Sable Industries is proud to produce quality dental tools used by registered dental hygienists and dentists across North America. Contact us today to learn how we can assist your dental practice.