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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Brandon Yew and Dr Eki Wari on April 5, 2023

Here’s Why Oral Health Should Be Part Of Your Prenatal Care

Pregnant women have enough to think about, but oral health should be a top priority. Here's why you'll want to include good dental health in your prenatal care plan.

Pregnant woman brushing her teeth min scaled

Prenatal care tends to focus on the diet consumed by women during their pregnancy. This is to ensure both mom and baby are in optimal health until delivery.

However, there’s one thing that’s sometimes disregarded when developing a prenatal care plan: oral health

Did you know that the state of your oral health during pregnancy can affect the baby in the long run? Find out how poor oral health can affect your pregnancy and learn tips for caring for your teeth here. 

Why Should Prenatal Care Include Oral Health?

In 2020, researchers 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).

Other problems that can arise include gingival tissue ulcerations, pregnancy granuloma, gingivitis, pregnancy tumors (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. 

Prenatal care and oral health, according to TCM

A pregnant woman with a toothache sitting at her work desk
Did you know that a toothache can set off contractions in pregnant women?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a more holistic approach to the importance of dental health during pregnancy.

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 Kidney’s 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.

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 estrogen 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. Setting reminders for yourself can help.

Best Prenatal Care Oral Health Tips

A pregnant woman during a dentist appointment
Along with regular visits with your doctor, be sure to see your dentist while you are pregnant.

Here are some tips to prevent poor oral health: 

Eat a healthy 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 as this can contribute to cavities.

Practice 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. 

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

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

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. Not only can self-medication harm the fetus, but it can also cause miscarriage in extreme cases.

Physician Yew recommends decoctions, such as:

  • Zuo Gui Wan
  • You Gui Wan
  • Ma Huang Xi Xin Fu Zi Tang
  • Qing Wei San
  • Yu Nu Jian
  • Di Tan Tang
  • Tong Qiao Huo Xue Tang
  • Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang
  • Zhi Gan Cao Tang

Bird’s nest is commonly used in TCM to help restore balance to the body. This can help keep your oral health at its best. In most cases, bird’s nest is safe for pregnant women to take and it contains numerous other health benefits for your baby, too.

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.”

TCM Physician Brandon Yew

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

  • Zu san li (ST36)
  • Nei ting (ST44)
  • Yin ling quan (SP9)
  • Feng long (ST40)
  • Tong li (HT5)
  • Tai xi (KI3)
  • Tai chong (LR3)

Try 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.

Talk To Your Doctor About Prenatal Care

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. 

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/
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Oral care in pregnancy. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6883753/

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