While the saying ‘gain a child, lose a tooth’ is questionable, hormonal changes during pregnancy can make the gums more vulnerable to plaque. Build-up of plaque can then lead to inflammation and bleeding of the gums (known as pregnancy gingivitis or gum disease) so women are encouraged to see the dentist or hygienist during pregnancy.
Maintain a thorough cleaning regime
During pregnancy it remains important to keep up a good oral hygiene regime such as:
- Regular cleaning with an electric toothbrush - This can be more effective than normal brushing and brushing twice a day is still a must. The toothbrush head should be changed every three to four months. A normal toothbrush should be replaced every six to eight weeks.
- Flossing - Floss daily to remove food deposits from between the teeth and prevent the build-up of plaque.
- Healthy eating - Try limiting snacking on sugary foods. Chewing gum after meals helps stimulate saliva flow which neutralises the acids built up after a meal.
- Avoid sugary, fizzy drinks - Try to limit sweet drinks to meal times only. Drink plenty of water in between. When eating, our saliva flow increases and acts a sugar buffer by helping to wash and protect the teeth. If you sip a sugary drink, the teeth are constantly bathed in sugar. These sugars turn to acid on the teeth, increasing the risk of decay. Water is the best choice, not just for pregnancy – as it’s sugar-free and hydrating.
- Regular dental checkups - Your dentist will be able to advise on cleaning and make sure all is well during pregnancy.
- Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol - Some dentists advise not to use mouthwash with alcohol in it because it can cause dryness in the mouth. Saliva protects the teeth, so drying out the mouth can increase the risk of decay.
- Stop smoking as it can make gum inflammation worse - Morning sickness can cause problems to teeth due to acid erosion from vomiting. Though you may want to brush your teeth straight away, try to hold off as they’ll be softened by the acid from your stomach. Instead rinse your mouth with plain water and brush about an hour later.
Visiting your dentist when you’re pregnant
Make sure your dentist knows that you're pregnant. If you need new or replacement fillings, you may be advised to delay your treatment until after your baby is born. The Department of Health advises that amalgam (or silver) fillings shouldn't be removed during pregnancy. This is because they contain mercury which can cross the placental barrier. Also, if you need a dental x-ray your dentist will usually wait until you've had the baby, although most dental x-rays don't affect the tummy (abdomen) or pelvic area.
During pregnancy, dental treatment is free on the NHS and for one year after you’ve given birth. To get free dental care you need to apply for a maternity exemption certificate (MatEx). Ask your midwife to help you with the exemption form (FW8) as they’ll need to sign it.
Are pregnant women entitled to free NHS dental treatment?