The “perinatal” period begins approximately 20-28 weeks into the pregnancy, and ends 1-4 weeks after the infant is born. Research shows that there are links between maternal periodontal disease (gum disease) and premature babies, babies with low birth weight, maternal preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes. It is of paramount importance therefore, for mothers to maintain excellent oral health throughout the entire pregnancy.
Why are perinatal dental checkups important?
Maternal cariogenic bacteria is linked with a wide range of adverse outcomes for infants and young children. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises expectant mothers to get dental checkups and counseling regularly.
Here are some perinatal oral care tips for expectant mothers:
Brush and floss – Be sure to use an ADA approved, fluoridated toothpaste at least twice each day, and floss at least once each day, to eliminate harmful oral bacteria.
Chew gum – Xylitol, a natural substance, has been shown to reduce infant and toddler caries (cavities) when chewed 3-5 times daily by the expectant mother.
Diet evaluation – Maintaining a balanced, nourishing diet is always important, but particularly so during pregnancy. Sugars and starches provide food for oral bacteria, and also increase the risk of tooth decay.
Make regular dental appointments – The dentist is able to check the general condition of teeth and provide strategies for reducing oral bacteria.
How can I care for my infant’s gums and teeth?
Many parents do not realize that cavity-causing bacteria can be transmitted from the mother or father to the child. This transmission happens via the sharing of eating utensils and the “cleaning” of pacifiers in the parent’s mouth.
Use to the following guidelines to enhance infant oral health:
Brush – Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny sliver of ADA approved non-fluoridated toothpaste (for children under two), gently brush the teeth twice each day.
Floss – As soon as two adjacent teeth appear in the infant’s mouth, cavities can form between the teeth.
Pacifier use – Pacifiers are a soothing tool for infants. If you decide to purchase a pacifier, choose an orthodontically correct model
Use drinking glasses – Baby bottles and sippy cups are largely responsible for infant and toddler tooth decay. Only offer water in sippy cups, and discontinue their use after the infant’s first birthday.
Visit the pediatric dentist – Around the age of one, the infant should visit a pediatric dentist for a “well baby” appointment.
Wipe gums – The infant is at risk for early cavities as soon as the first tooth emerges. This reduces oral bacteria and minimizes the risk of early cavities.