As if pregnant women didn’t have enough to contend with; apparently no system in the body is off limits when carrying a little one, including the gums. Pregnancy gingivitis is surprisingly common – 50 to 70 percent of women are likely to develop the condition between their second and eighth month.
The culprits here, as with most changes during pregnancy, are hormones and increased blood flow. Progressively greater concentrations of estrogen and progesterone in the body combine with an increase in blood and fluid retention to do a number of things. They make the gums more sensitive, increase inflammation and encourage the production of bacteria that leads to gingivitis. All of a sudden, moms-to-be aren’t just dealing with an increased levels of bacteria-caused plaque, but a hyper-sensitive mouth that doesn’t lend itself to maintaining proper oral hygiene. As plaque builds up, the health of the gums decline, and the result is gingivitis – which left untreated over a long period can turn into the more serious condition periodontitis.
Pregnancy gingivitis isn’t just a concern for one’s oral and systemic health. If left unchecked, it can mean bad things for baby as well. A number of major studies have shown a link between gum disease and premature birth. Bacteria attacking the gums can also enter the bloodstream, and therefore travel all the way to the uterus. The body’s natural response to the presence of these bacteria is to produce prostaglandins, the fatty acid that normally controls inflammation and smooth muscle contraction.
However, in pregnant women, prostaglandins increase and peak during labor. It is possible that, if extra prostaglandins are produced to fight gum disease, it will trigger the body to induce labor and result in premature delivery.One study in The Journal of the American Dental Association reported that pregnant women with chronic gum disease were up to seven times more likely to give birth before week 37 than those with healthy gums, and in the most severe cases, as early as 32 weeks.
Signs of pregnancy gingivitis range from redder gums with slight bleeding during brushing to severe swelling and bleeding of gum tissue with little provocation. In some cases a pregnancy tumor, also called a pyogenic granuloma, may even develop (don’t let the name scare you, these are completely benign). This is where areas of intense inflammation have resulted in a growth on the gum tissue that bleeds easily and can inhibit normal eating and speaking. If gingivitis was already a concern prior to becoming pregnant, these symptoms are even more likely to develop.
Though this may seem a bit terrifying, pregnancy gingivitis is often minor and disappears after the pregnancy is over. Being proactive in your oral health care is essential to prevention and treatment. Brushing, flossing and using an antiseptic mouth rinse twice daily are musts. In addition, make sure you keep up with your dental cleanings – at least two over the course of your pregnancy is a good goal. Perhaps most important, talk to your dentist at the first sign that something is not right. Prevention and early treatment can mean the world to you and your little one!