Brushing for Two: How Your Oral Health Affects the Baby

There is an old wive’s tale that goes something like “gain a child, lose a tooth.” While this may have been more or less true in long-ago times before the advent of effective dental care, as with all old sayings, there is still a bit of truth in it even today. Pregnant women today are not likely to actually lose a tooth for every child they bear, but vigilant oral health care during pregnancy is still very important for both the mother and the child.

Many women may not realize it, but good oral care should be considered part of the overall prenatal care. The changing hormones of pregnancy can contribute to gingivitis, a a precursor condition to the more serious periodontal disease. Gingivitis results in bleeding gums. Left untreated, it may advance to full-blown periodontal disease. This condition may result in receding of the gums, infection, pain, more pronounced bleeding and even tooth loss. About 60 to 75 percent of pregnant women have some form of gingivitis. Periodontal disease in pregnant women has been linked to low birth weight and premature delivery.

Did you Know?

Mothers with untreated cavities and tooth loss bear children with a 3-fold likelihood of having cavities themselves, and these children are much more likely to miss school due to dental problems. The exact reason is unclear, but it may be due to bacteria transferred from the mother’s mouth to the child’s during kissing or sharing of food. Cavities form when certain oral bacteria feed on sugars and produce an acid that attacks tooth enamel. Once the protective enamel is breached and a hole has formed, a cavity is inevitable.

Symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Shiny gums
  • Bleeding even during very gentle brushing and flossing
  • Redness, swelling and tenderness

Pregnant women are also at a higher risk for cavities. This may be due to hormones, a change in eating habits and a tendency to become lax about daily oral care and oral health. Many pregnant women experience fatigue and food cravings. A combination of higher sugar consumption and less vigilance about brushing and flossing would definitely contribute to more dental decay in some individuals.

Oral Care during Pregnancy

Tell your dentist you’re pregnant as soon as you know. Be sure to get regular checkups to protect your oral health during this time, and follow your dentist’s recommendations. Floss at least once daily, and brush your teeth at least twice a day with a quality fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is important because it both fights bacteria and helps to remineralize your teeth, keeping your enamel strong and less prone to bacterial attack.

Teeth Cleaning and Dental X-rays

Both of these procedures are safe for pregnant women. According to the March of Dimes, dental x-rays use very little radiation and the special apron and collar your dentist uses during this procedure protects both you and your unborn child from any dangerous exposure. Some cavities cannot be detected early without the use of dental x-rays. Always tell your dentist you’re pregnant during each and every visit.


Protect your health and safeguard your pregnancy through a program of aggressive oral care. Eat a healthy diet low in refined sugar to help protect your teeth from decay. Although you may be tired and tempted to skip brushing and flossing, it’s worth the effort for both