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Women urged to maintain periodontal health during pregnancy

When a woman becomes pregnant, she knows it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle to ensure both the health of herself and the health of her baby. New clinical recommendations from the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) and the Eurpean Federation of Periodontology (EFP) urge pregnant women to maintain periodontal health as well. Research has indicated that women with periodontal disease may be at risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such giving birth to a pre-term or low-birth weight baby, reports the AAP and EFP.

Periodontal disease is a chronic, bacteria-induced, inflammatory condition that attacks the gum tissue and in more severe cases, the bone supporting the teeth. If left untreated, periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can lead to tooth loss and has been associated with other systemic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"Tenderness, redness, or swollen gums are a few indications of periodontonal disease," warns Dr. Nancy L. Newhouse, DDS, MS, President of the AAP and a practicing periodontist in Independence, Missouri. "Other symptoms include gums that bleed with toothbrushing or eating, gums that are pulling away from the teeth, bad breath, and loose teeth. These signs, especially during pregnancy, should not be ignored and may require treatment from a dental professional."

Several research studies have suggested that women with periodontal disease may be more likely to deliver babies prematurely or with low-birth weight than mothers with healthy gums. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies with a birth weight of less than 5.5 pounds may be at risk of long-term health problems such as delayed motor skills, social growth, or learning disabilities. Similar complications are true for babies born at least three weeks earlier than its due date. Other issues associated with pre-term birth include respiratory problems, vision and hearing loss, or feeding and digestive problems.

The medical and dental communities concur that maintaining periodontal health is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. The clinical recommendations released by the AAP and the EFP state that non-surgical periodontal therapy is safe for pregnant women, and can result in improved periodontal health. Published concurrently in the Journal of Periodontology andJournal of Clinical Periodontology, the report provides guidelines for both dental and medical professionals to use in diagnosing and treating periodontal disease in pregnant women. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently released a statement encouraging pregnant women to sustain their oral health and recommended regular dental cleanings during pregnancy.

"Routine brushing and flossing, and seeing a periodontist, dentist, or dental hygienist for a comprehensive periodontal evaluation during pregnancy may decrease the chance of adverse pregnancy complications," says Dr. Newhouse. "It is important for expectant mothers to monitor their periodontal health and to have a conversation with their periodontist or dentist about the most appropriate care. By maintaining your periodontal health, you are not only supporting your overall health, but also helping to ensure a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby," says Dr. Newhouse.

Think before you drink: Erosion of tooth enamel from soda pop is permanent

You may be saving calories by drinking diet soda, but when it comes to enamel erosion of your teeth, it's no better than regular soda.

In the last 25 years, Kim McFarland, D.D.S., associate professor in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln, has seen an increase in the number of dental patients with erosion of the tooth enamel - the protective layer of the tooth. Once erosion occurs, it can't be reversed and affects people their whole life.

"I'd see erosion once in a while 25 years ago but I see much more prevalence nowadays," Dr. McFarland said. "A lot of young people drink massive quantities of soda. It's no surprise we're seeing more sensitivity."

Triggers like hot and cold drinks - and even cold air - reach the tooth's nerve and cause pain. Depending on the frequency and amount of soda consumed, the erosion process can be extreme.

She said according to the National Soft Drink Association, it's estimated the average American drinks 44 gallons of soda pop a year. Phosphoric and citric acid, which are common ingredients in many popular sodas and diet sodas, alters the pH balance in the mouth and can cause tooth erosion over time.

"It can be more harmful than cavities because the damage causes tooth sensitivity," Dr. McFarland said. "If a tooth is decayed a dentist can fix it by placing a filling, but if a tooth is sensitive there is really nothing a dentist can do.

"Tooth sensitivity can become a lifetime problem, limiting things we like to drink and even food choices. You could crown all your teeth but that is costly and a rather extreme solution," Dr. McFarland said.

"It hurts to consume cold and hot foods and beverages. Some of my patients tell me when they go outside in the winter they don't open their mouth or the cold air causes pain."

In addition, a significant number of scientific studies show a relationship between the consumption of soda and enamel erosion and cavities.

Dr. McFarland said it's best not to drink soda at all, but she offers tips for those who continue to drink it.

  • Limit consumption of soda to meal time
  • Don't drink soda throughout the day
  • Brush your teeth afterwards -- toothpaste re-mineralizes or strengthens areas where acid weakened the teeth
  • If tooth brushing is not possible, at least rinse out your mouth with water
  • Chew sugar free gum or better yet, gum containing Xylitol.