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.
In particular, there are four oral health conditions that become more prevalent during pregnancy:
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.
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.
The risk of developing dental caries or cavities often increases during pregnancy. Patients may be affected by one or more contributing factors:
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.
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.
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:
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.