A new take on an old wives’ tale
Guest post by Brenda White, R.D.H.
In years past, women felt that child bearing was detrimental to their teeth. Many have heard the folk saying “a tooth lost for each baby.” Well before our modern age, women knew that, despite the joy of bringing children into the world, childbirth took a profound toll on their bodies.
The loss of teeth during or after pregnancy made sense in the 1800s, but there is no need for modern mothers to suffer the same losses.
People take creative license with bits of knowledge: Babies need to make bones; bones and teeth contain calcium; babies get everything from mom; mom must lose calcium/bones/teeth to create babies. The scientists reading here will utter the refrain, “correlation does not equal causation”: Things that happen together do not always have a cause/effect relationship.
So, what made our grandmothers think babies cost mom some teeth? Well, it’s complicated and maybe there was some causation after all. There are so many effects on teeth during pregnancy that the old thought process may be only a little misguided:
Many pregnant women experience significant morning sickness. In some instances, it is severe enough to make daily tooth brushing and flossing a challenge, and stomach acid is damaging to tooth enamel.
Estrogen increases during pregnancy, which can lead to inflamed gums and create a breeding ground for bacteria on the tooth roots. The combination of increased estrogen levels and decrease in oral hygiene can have a profoundly negative effect on the health of the teeth and gum tissues of an expectant mother.
Gum disease and low birth weight
In recent years, medical research has discovered the negative impact gum disease can have on the health of a developing fetus. In rare instances, it may even be responsible for death of the unborn child. The gum tissue weakened by gingivitis serves as a portal for infection to enter the body. Infection is a significant cause of preterm low birth weight babies, responsible for 30-50 percent of cases.
The topic of pregnancy lends itself to the chicken/egg question: Is the premature baby, in a mother with gum disease, the cause or the effect? Did mom develop gum disease because she was pregnant or did a woman with gum disease have a premature baby?
Studies show that the negative outcomes of early delivery and low birth weight are seven times more likely to occur in the presence of periodontal disease. Fusobacterium nucleatum, a bacteria found in the mouth that is responsible for more aggressive types of periodontal disease, has been found in amniotic fluid cultures from women who have delivered prematurely.
What you can do
You can help us to help you keep your teeth. Brush and floss daily. More if you experience morning sickness. Keep your appointments. We love babies and their parents. Maintaining dental hygiene visits every three to six months is imperative to minimizing gingivitis and the problems that can result. As morning sickness often fades after the first trimester, many women find the second trimester optimal for dental visits.
Contact us to schedule your next dental visit and to learn more about prenatal dental care.