I am going to say something completely unexpected for a dentist…so be prepared! One of the first unexpected learning experiences I had in dental school was that the tissue from the mouth was the same as the tissue of a woman’s vagina. In other words, if a CSI agent were to look at tissue under a microscope slide from either organ, they would have a hard time knowing which is which. That was quite a shock to my class of 120, about 2/3 of them male freshman students– maybe it is a shock to you as well? The purpose of the article is to educate mothers-to-be in order to help prevent a premature or low-birth-weight baby.

Without getting technical, visualize the following scenario. Once conceived, a fetus requires proper nutrition and oxygen that is supplied by the newly formed placenta. Elevated hormones, estrogen and progesterone, go to work by enlarging the blood vessels in the lining of the uterus making it easier for the placenta to attach and take advantage of the readily available source of blood. Once the fetus is firmly established, the ranking order of blood flow is mother, uterus, placenta, umbilical cord and baby and back the other way; an extreme feat and accomplishment to say the least.

The same hormones that increase the blood supply also put the immune system into hyper alert. Since the gum tissue is going to respond like the female reproductive system, it too will have more blood supply and be on hyper-alert immune wise. This provides the perfect opportunity for minor-to-severe infections of the gums and bone of the teeth to begin.

Since the gums swell with engorged blood vessels, bacteria can hide in the pockets of the gums where regular toothbrushes cannot reach. And since the immune system is on hyper alert, the body will detect the bacteria as the foreign agent they are and will over respond. This hyper response is like a military surge, destroying everything in its way including gum and bone.

Left unchecked, more and more swelling occurs, which allows more bacteria to hide, which causes an even heavier response from the immune system. This untreated infection of the gum tissue and bone that support the teeth can be damaged beyond repair. How many times have you heard a women say her teeth were good and healthy before she gave birth?

More tragic news; bad bacteria can make its way from the infected mouth to the placenta and is thought to be a co-factor for preterm and low-birth-weight babies. Unless you are in the dental field and work on patients every day, you have no idea how infected the mouth can become. Gum disease is already called the silent killer of teeth simply because it is not painful. Every mother to be needs to be aware of this possibility.

Now that you know the more interesting bad stuff, let’s talk about the good-but-boring stuff. If a mother to be keeps her teeth and gums spotlessly clean, she should have no problem at all. Gentle brushing, flossing and water picking keep the swelling down to a minimum, and if there are no bad bacteria, there is no immune response. No swelling, no immune response, no problem.

Here is the bottom line problem. It takes the help of a knowledgeable dentist and/or hygienist to make this happen. The hygienist is your dental hygiene coach and will customize a cleaning ritual for office and home that will fit your exact needs. This may include visiting your dental hygienist several times during your pregnancy! As we all know, going to the dentist is not a pleasant thought for many, plus it is just one more thing you have to do. I understand that.

Two things I have to say about going to the dentist; with modern dentistry, it should not hurt, and if you want to be and stay healthy, it is simply something that must be done. By the way, if you have anyone in your life telling you not to go to the dentist while expecting, including a medical doctor, please refer them to this article.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!