I’ve written before about my horrific pregnancy experience. I suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is basically extreme sickness throughout the entire nine months, and not limited to just mornings either. I was so weak and dehydrated that I was hospitalised several times. It wasn’t a great time for me.
Of course during this period I was extremely anxious and worried about a multitude of things, mainly concerning the baby growing inside me, and how feeling so unwell was affecting my ability to do my job but also spent a lot of time feeling anxious about my own health and well-being. My hair started to become brittle and weak and my teeth became something of a fixation.
Oral health needs particular attention during pregnancy. Teeth and gums are especially vulnerable to problems during this time. The reason again is hormonal: during pregnancy, women experience a significant boost in female sex hormones. In fact, women produce more estrogen during a single pregnancy than throughout the rest of their lives.
This surge in hormones is designed to help ligaments relax and to improve the formation of blood vessels, all of which allows a baby to grow and thrive in the womb. It’s good for the baby, of course, but not for the gums, which are at increased risk of periodontal disease as a result. The problem is compounded by the fact that during pregnancy we have a reduced flow of saliva, whose natural antimicrobial and antiviral properties would normally help to protect the teeth and gums. To make matters worse, women often crave high-energy, sweet foods that pose additional threats to the teeth.
“Maintaining good oral health during the prenatal period improves the oral health outcomes of the mother and the baby and may potentially improve pregnancy outcomes.” – Applied Nursing Research 2010
As well as this I was also concerned about the impact increased vomiting and excessive saliva was having inside my mouth, and I felt the need to brush my teeth much more often, but being extremely sensitive to taste and smell this act in itself made me wretch. There are some obvious and less-obvious solutions to hormone-induced oral health issues.
First, maintain a thorough home-cleaning and hygiene regime: brush your teeth regularly and use floss and interdental brushes.
Second, visit your dentist. This has become more difficult during the period of the pandemic, but dentists are best placed to advise on, and alleviate, any oral issues caused by hormonal changes. During pregnancy and twelve months post part in you are entitled to free NHS dental care which is a bonus.
Third, and perhaps less intuitively, chew sugar-free chewing gum. Research by the Department of Dentistry at King’s College London in 2019 found that people who chew sugar-free gum develop 28% fewer cavities than those who do not. The equivalent figure for fluoride toothpastes and other supplements was 24%.
Sugar-free chewing gum alleviates inflamed gums and dry mouth by stimulating saliva production by up 10 to 12 times the normal amount. This saliva neutralizes acid, soothes inflammation and rids the mouth of bacteria and plaque.
Multiple studies show that good oral health means a healthy oral microbiome, which in turn translates into good overall health. This is even more pronounced during periods of stimulated hormonal change in women. This is normal and there are effective preventative measures to hand, such as home-care and sugar-free gum. These can alleviate symptoms and prevent to onset of more serious problems.
As a woman it’s important to take note and maintain good oral hygiene as fluctuating hormones throughout our lives can also have an impact, from puberty and menstruation right through to the menopause – If you’ve ever noticed swollen or bleeding gums during your period, or ulcers, or swollen salivary glands, hormones may be to blame.