Q:  I just found out that I'm pregnant and I feel like I don't know anything. What can you can tell me about dental hygiene for pregnant women, and should I make an appointment with my dentist?

—Ariana, Alachua, FL

A: Congratulations! Pregnancy is a special phase of life where a woman's mind and body prepare to receive the greatest gift: a new life. As you prepare for your new baby, remember to take care of yourself, including your oral hygiene, as it is important for your health as well as the baby's.

During pregnancy the woman’s body experiences a variety of physiological changes driven by a surge of hormones. A common change in the oral cavity is an exaggerated reaction of the gum tissue to bacteria and plaque, causing gingivitis.

Also caused by bacteria in the mouth, periodontitis (advanced gum disease) has been associated with premature births and low birthweight babies. Therefore, reducing bacteria and plaque in your mouth increases the chance of having a healthy baby. In order for you and other pregnant women to maintain proper oral health, brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss daily, and make sure to continue your professional dental cleanings.

Dental X-rays, which are relatively low radiation and precise, are not contraindicated during pregnancy, meaning that they are okay for both mother and fetus. However, to be extra safe, we avoid taking routine X-rays during the first trimester, which is when organ formation of the fetus occurs. When we do take dental X-rays on pregnant women, as an extra precaution we use a led apron to block the patient's abdomen.

Dental treatment during pregnancy is not contraindicated either, and, in fact, is highly recommended. It is important to make regular visits to your dentist to prevent dental emergencies (e.g. abscesses, toothaches, and broken teeth) during the gestational period, which can stress both the expectant mother and the in-utero child.

...Which is why it's best to make sure your oral cavity is healthy before you are pregnant. And since pregnancy and childbirth are not always planned, no time is better than the present.

If you do need dental treatment while pregnant, the second trimester is best because, unlike during the first and third, the fetus's organs have formed and you will still feel comfortable in the dental chair.

Your oral health is an important part of your general health, so if you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant, you have even more reason to make sure you include dental visits to your health care routine.

Happy time, enjoy it!

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