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Why Teeth Health Should Be an Important Part of Pre-Natal Care

An expectant mother’s poor teeth health can affect her baby too. Good dental habits such as regular brushing, flossing, and check-ups will maintain teeth health during pregnancy.

A pregnant woman standing in front of a bathroom mirror while brushing her teeth.

Pregnant women and their loved ones tend to be very mindful about the food, health supplements, and skincare they consume and use during their pregnancy. This is to ensure they and their unborn baby have the best care and are in optimum health until delivery. However, there’s one thing that’s sometimes disregarded: teeth health. 

The state of teeth health during pregnancy can affect the baby in the long run. Find out how pregnancy is linked to poor oral health and tips on caring for your teeth. 

The Importance of Teeth Health During Pregnancy

In 2020, researchers at Universiti Sains Malaysia examined dental problems in 192 pregnant women. Results revealed that 53.7% of the women had moderate to severe gum inflammation (gingivitis), and another 46.3% had gum pockets (periodontal pockets).

Poor teeth health in pregnancy has been found to trigger issues such as premature delivery, low baby birth weight, and pre-eclampsia. Other problems that can arise include gingival tissue ulcerations, pregnancy granuloma, gingivitis, pregnancy tumours (epulis gravidarum), mouth dryness, and dental erosions.

How does the condition of a pregnant woman’s teeth relate to the above conditions? For example, a toothache can set off contractions. Dental infections can impact the baby’s health because a mother can still transfer bacteria from tooth cavities during pregnancy to her newborn post-delivery. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a more holistic approach to the importance of dental health during pregnancy. Real Health Medical Senior TCM physician Brandon Yew says that according to TCM, teeth are the surplus manifestation of bones governed by the Kidneys. Poor dental health in adults would suggest a diseased Kidney.

The Kidneys play a huge role because they store jing, the essence that can transform into qi (vital energy) and blood. The Kidneys also source yin (active energy) and yang (passive), and a dental condition can affect these vital substances.

Because of their significance, Kidney Deficiencies can relate to inadequacy in other vital organs, like the Liver, Heart and Spleen. Factors like Cold, Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Qi Stagnation and blood clots can also impair the Kidneys’ function, leading to dental diseases.

Poor teeth health in pregnant women may signify pathological changes to the Kidneys and other vital organs. This can endanger both the mother and the baby.

A pregnant woman holding her cheek with a pained expression with one hand and touching her protruding belly with her other hand.
Poor teeth health in pregnant women can affect newborns too.

Causes of Poor Teeth Health in Pregnant Women 

Several factors that cause dental diseases in pregnant women are: 

Hormonal changes 

Pregnant women produce higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, bringing about changes in many tissues. In this period, the gingiva or gum becomes more sensitive or irritated. These hormones also make women bleed more, which may make them avoid brushing their teeth.

Dietary changes 

In the early months of pregnancy, expectant mothers usually crave foods that can easily damage their teeth. Examples are sugary desserts like cake, ice cream, pastries, carbonated drinks, and candy.

Morning sickness 

Vomiting or having acid reflux creates an acidic environment in the mouth, weakening tooth enamel. 

Changes in schedule and priorities 

At times, fatigue might kick in for pregnant women and remembering to brush and floss their teeth would take a backseat. It’s important to keep brushing and flossing twice a day. 

How to Support Teeth Health During Pregnancy 

Here are some tips to prevent poor oral health: 

Eat a balanced diet 

Fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, dairy products, meat, fish and eggs are rich in vitamins A, C, and D. They are also high in calcium and phosphorus. Avoid too much sugar, dried fruit, and candies.

Daily oral care 

Maintain oral hygiene by brushing and flossing twice daily. Rinsing the mouth with mouthwashes or warm salty water can relax the gums and reduce their sensitivity. 

Use the right brush 

Choose a soft toothbrush to avoid bleeding gums and replace it every three to four months.

Visit the dentist 

Schedule a full dental examination during pregnancy to ensure dental health is in top condition.

A close-up of a woman lying down while being examined by a dentist with tubes in her mouth.
Maintain good teeth health by going for regular dental check-ups.

Consume Chinese herbs 

A variety of Chinese herbs is believed to restore balance to the body, treating symptoms like bleeding gums, inflammation, and pain. However, Physician Yew stresses that consulting a qualified TCM physician before taking any herbs is mandatory. Consumption of the wrong herbs can present a variety of unwanted side effects in pregnant women, especially. Not only can self-medication harm the foetus, but it can also cause miscarriage in extreme cases.

Physician Yew recommends decoctions such as Zuo Gui Wan (左归丸), You Gui Wan (右归丸), Ma Huang Xi Xin Fu Zi Tang (麻黄细辛附子汤), Qing Wei San (清胃散), Yu Nu Jian (玉女煎), Di Tan Tang (涤痰汤), Tong Qiao Huo Xue Tang (通窍活血汤), Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (补中益气汤), and Zhi Gan Cao Tang (炙甘草汤). 

Use acupressure massage 

According to TCM, massaging certain points can balance yin (active energy) and yang (passive) energies, while promoting the flow of qi (vital energy) and blood at the same time. This, in turn, will relieve the symptoms of dental diseases.

As with herb consumption, acupressure may not be suitable for some pregnant women. Before attempting to massage these acupoints, expectant mothers must seek advice from a TCM professional. Even if they’re allowed to perform acupressure, some acupoints may not be safe for their state of pregnancy and body constitutions. It’s necessary to perform acupressure only after a thorough assessment from a TCM physician.

Physician Yew recommends massaging these points in both clockwise and counterclockwise motions 20 times, repeating for three minutes each: 

  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里) – Dispels Dampness and phlegm, regenerates Spleen qi
  • Nei ting (ST44, 内庭) – Dispels Cold, Fire, Dampness, phlegm, Stagnated Qi and blood clots
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉) – Dispels Dampness and phlegm  
  • Feng long (ST40, 丰隆) – Dispels Dampness, phlegm and Stagnated Qi  
  • Tong li (HT5, 通里) – Dispels pathogens, strengthens the Heart  
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪) – Regenerates the yin energy and essence to nourish the Kidneys
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太冲) – Dispels Fire, Stagnated Qi and blood clots; regenerates blood to nourish Liver

7. Acupuncture 

In TCM, acupuncture is thought to promote blood and nutrient circulation within the cavities. Besides acupuncture, TCM also recommends cupping therapy, gua sha or scraping and tuina

Safe Dental Treatments for Pregnant Women 

If interventions like tooth extraction and canal treatment are necessary, they must be completed quickly to prevent more pain. In this case, performing the treatments in the second trimester is better because this is a relatively stable period during pregnancy.

Still, as each pregnancy is different, expectant mothers must speak to their doctors about the most appropriate treatments.

Similarly, if they prefer TCM remedies, they should discuss them with trusted physicians before consuming any herbs because some are unsafe for pregnant women.

Teeth health is important for anyone, but especially for pregnant women because it concerns the well-being of two people. Mothers-to-be must maintain oral hygiene and receive appropriate treatments when needed. Most importantly, they must remember to consult a doctor or TCM physician before trying a treatment. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “孕妇适合拔牙吗?”, which first appeared on Health123 website.

References

  1. Pubmed. 2020. Association between Perceived Oral Symptoms and Presence of Clinically Diagnosed Oral Diseases in a Sample of Pregnant Women in Malaysia. [online] Available at: <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33049972/> [Accessed on 15 August 2022] 
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Oral care in pregnancy. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6883753/> [Accessed on 15 August 2022] 

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