Your reproductive system isn’t the only part of your body that needs attention when you’re thinking about getting pregnant — so do your teeth. That’s why now is a great time to visit the dentist.
Making a baby is definitely something to smile about. But before you begin Operation Conception, you’ll need to make sure that those pearly whites (and pink gums) are ready to face the pregnancy challenge, and vice versa. That’s right — not only can pregnancy take a toll on your mouth, but your mouth (if it’s not in tip-top shape) can also take a toll on your pregnancy. Dental problems of all kinds are more likely to crop up when you’re expecting (blame it on the hormones), untreated decay can lead to system-wide infection (something you definitely don’t want during pregnancy), and serious gum disease is associated with pregnancy complications. All among the many reasons to add a dental visit to your before-pregnancy to-do list, right alongside the preconception checkups you’ve scheduled with your primary-care physician and your ob-gyn (or midwife).
Why You Should See a Dentist Before Getting Pregnant
Have you been putting off your yearly dental checkup for…years? Time to stop procrastinating and start dialing your dentist. First, because a preconception dental visit will give you a chance to get any necessary X-rays taken before the pregnancy meter’s running (since it’s wise to avoid exposing your little one to even very low doses of radiation, routine dental X-rays are usually postponed until after delivery). Second, it will also give you time to get any dental problems fixed (that cavity that has to get filled, the crown you’ve been waiting on, the gum work you sorely need). While it’s safe (with the right precautions) to have dental procedures done during pregnancy, it’s definitely smarter to have that work behind you before sperm meets egg. Third (and this applies to even those “look-ma-no-cavities” types), you’ll be able to start pregnancy with freshly scrubbed teeth, thanks to the comprehensive cleaning you’ll receive.
Here’s another reason why now’s the time to open wide for the dentist and the hygenist: pregnancy hormones can do a number on your mouth. For one thing, those hormones will make your teeth extra vulnerable to decay — a compelling case for starting off with a professionally cleaned set. For another, your gums (like the other mucous membranes in your body) become swollen and inflamed once a baby’s on board, and they are prone to bleed easily. All that sensitivity and swelling makes those gums more susceptible to plaque and bacteria, leading (in some women) to gingivitis. Untreated gingivitis can develop into a more serious gum condition called periodontitis, which is associated with a variety of pregnancy complications, such as premature labor, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. That’s why it makes sense to resolve any issues sooner than later — and definitely before they take a turn for the worse. If there’s room for improvement gum- or tooth-wise, discuss a plan of action with your dentist. If you have lots of dental problems that need treating, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get it all taken care of before you start your baby-making engines.
Dental Care Before (and After) Getting Pregnant
To safeguard your teeth both now and once you’re chewing for two, be fastidious about flossing and brushing. To protect against cavities, use a fluoride toothpaste, and brush your tongue too to minimize bacteria in your mouth. Can’t get to a sink to brush after eating? Chew on a stick of sugarless gum sweetened with xylitol (chewing any gum increases saliva, which rinses the teeth, and gum containing xylitol can actually help prevent decay), or sip on milk, nibble on cheese, or crunch on some nuts (all three of these can help wash away residual carbs, while helping to neutralize the tooth-decaying acids in your mouth). Watch what you eat during and between meals, too. Cut down on your intake of simple sugars (like candy and soda), consume plenty of foods high in vitamin C (which strengthens gums and reduces the chances of bleeding), and bone up on foods high in calcium and vitamin D (which team up to strengthen tooth enamel, along with your bones). And even if you’ve gotten the all-clear at your preconception dental checkup, schedule another visit with your dentist while you’re expecting to get another cleaning and keep an eye on your teeth and gums. After all, you’ll want that smile picture-perfect when it’s time to snap those first mom-and-baby photos!