Dr. Steve Law graduated from the Univ. of Minnesota School of Dentistry & opened Metropolitan Dental Care to serve the Denver, CO community.
Avoid Harsh Cleaning Techniques and See Your Dentist
Most women need to adjust their oral care routine to be gentler on their more sensitive gums. There are several products that can help you do this. A special pregnancy visit to the dentist will also ensure you start out with a good dental cleaning early in your pregnancy.
A Time of Systemic Changes
Pregnancy is a time of ultimate body transformation. Most men will not experience half the changes a pregnant woman must cope with during the months in which a new person is created. To name a few:
- hormonal changes
- organ compression and expansion
- changes to equilibrium and gait
- changes to skin and hair
Unfortunately, there’s another change that many women can add to the list: pregnancy gingivitis.
It’s estimated that 50-70 percent of pregnant women experience sensitive and swollen gums at some point in their pregnancy. Even for a woman with stellar oral health, the changes to her oral inflammatory response can turn her normally easy oral care routine into a painful situation.
Changing hormone levels bring more blood to your soft tissues and this can make your gums more sensitive to flossing. Any irritation may quickly result in swelling and bleeding.
If you already suffer from mild gingivitis, your gum health can deteriorate quickly into full-blown periodontitis, a condition that, while treatable, has no cure.
A Self-Propagating Condition
What makes pregnancy gingivitis such a problem is that a small case can quickly evolve into a massive problem.
Let’s say you notice one section of your mouth feeling swollen and sore after flossing. You probably want to leave it alone until the inflammation has subsided before you floss again. But if you skip flossing on the next night, tartar and bacteria are going to start building up and leading to greater infection.
But if you force yourself to floss during a period of inflammation, you may remove the tartar and bacteria, but now your gums feel positively shredded and there’s bleeding too! Now it hurts just to brush your teeth, so you aren't going to trying flossing too.
Now the rest of your mouth has greater bacteria build-up, and waiting for your gums to “go back to normal” will put you right back where you started.
2 Steps to Preventing Gum Disease During Pregnancy
In addition to following the standard recommended oral health routines (brush twice a day, floss once a day) there are two things we advise during pregnancy.
- The first is an extra dental cleaning or two, as early as possible. Visit your dentist as soon as you find out you are pregnant. A professional cleaning will give you a head start against gingivitis by removing any lingering tartar that may be encouraging bacteria to hang out in your gums.
- The second thing we recommend is finding a gentler alternative to flossing at or before the first sign of symptoms. If you already have struggled with some gingivitis in your life, find an alternative right away.
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Flossing alternatives can include:
- soft flossing picks or brushes,
- an end-tufted brush, or
- an oral irrigator (Waterpik).
These products have frequently been used by expectant mothers in the place of dental floss because they (1) remove bacteria and plaque as well as floss, but (2) are more gentle on the gums when inflammation is present.
If your gums are pretty healthy, you may just want to switch to a less harsh form of floss, such as Glide floss, and adjust your technique.
Common Oral Hygiene Changes During Pregnancy
|Before Pregnancy||During Pregnancy|
Strong Minty Toothpastes
Fruity Kids' Toothpastes
Softer, Child-Sized Brushes
Oral Irrigator, End-Tufted Brush, or Glide floss
You may also want to find alternatives to your usual toothpaste and toothbrush if you find yourself gagging or vomiting when you try to brush.
Strong flavors and large brush heads can stimulate your gag reflex, especially in the first trimester, when morning sickness is more common. Switching to a smaller brush and milder flavored toothpaste can make a big difference.
Healthy Mouth, Happy Mama
What to Do if it Happens to You
If you find yourself struggling to keep up with your flossing regimen while pregnant due to swollen, painful gums (or any other reason), call your dentist and make an appointment. Your dentist and hygienist can help you deal with the inflammation, clean your teeth, and explain the best way to gently accomplish the same outcomes you get from flossing with gentler products.
Why You Need To Seek Help
Gum disease affects millions of Americans and is the number one cause of tooth loss.
Losing one’s teeth is not a natural effect of old age—it is the result of gum disease, and it is preventable. We see a lot of patients whose gum disease started during pregnancy. And once it starts, managing symptoms can be an ongoing struggle.
When gum disease symptoms are not treated, the gum tissue is slowly destroyed and teeth become destabilized—much like tree roots that are exposed when the soil around them is removed.
Gum recession quickly gives way to tooth decay below the gum line, since tooth roots do not have a protective layer of enamel surrounding them. It’s a bad scene, all around, so preventing gum disease is the key to keeping your teeth healthy enough to last a lifetime.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Stephanie Purser from Australia on September 11, 2017:
Thank you for sharing! Good information.