Oral Care During Pregnancy
Most women notice changes in their gums during pregnancy; common signs are gums that look redder and bleed during tooth brushing. Some women also experience severe swelling and bleeding gums. All of these changes are referred to as "pregnancy gingivitis," and they can start as early as the second month of pregnancy. The condition tends to peak around the eighth month, and it often tapers off after the baby is born.
The condition occurs more frequently during pregnancy because the increased level of hormones, estrogen and progesterone, exaggerates the way gums react to the irritants in plaque. However, it's still plaque — not hormones — that is the major cause of gingivitis. It’s most common in the front of the mouth. During pregnancy, the level of progesterone in your body can be 10 times higher than normal. This may enhance growth of certain bacteria that cause gingivitis. Your immune system may also work differently during pregnancy. This could change the way your body reacts to the bacteria that cause gingivitis.
To minimize the effects of pregnancy gingivitis, practice good oral hygiene: Brush twice a day, for at least two minutes each time. Floss every day. Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse also may help you control your gum inflammation and dental plaque.
No matter what symptoms you have during pregnancy, you should always take care of your teeth with good habits that include regular flossing and brushing to ensure you maintain healthy teeth and gums throughout your pregnancy.
Here are a few tips to help during the prenatal stage:
- Visit your dentist for a checkup
Get your teeth checked and cleaned. Be sure to get any needed dental work done. The germs that cause cavities can be passed on to your baby after it is born.
- Brush twice a day
Brush at least twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and be sure to put the bristles of the toothbrush where the teeth and gums meet to brush away dental plaque and food debris. This is where gum disease begins and plaque develops.
- Floss daily
Floss daily to clean between the teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach, and below the gum line.
- Limit sweet or starchy foods
Sweet or starchy snacks can cause "acid attacks" on your teeth. Drink fewer sugary drinks and eat fewer sweets. Soda and sweets may cause cavities so try to eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat foods high in calcium
You need calcium for your baby's teeth and bones. Calcium can be found in milk, cheese, dried beans, and leafy green vegetables.
- Manage dry mouth
Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during pregnancy. Sucking on ice chips can moisturize your mouth, and as a bonus, can relieve pregnancy nausea.
Infant Oral Care
Although most babies’ teeth develop normally during infancy, it is important to know what is going on, so you can prevent issues in the future.
Although newborns usually have no visible teeth, most have at least a partially developed set of primary, or baby, teeth that begin to appear 3 to 9 months after birth. During the first few years of life, all 20 of the primary teeth will erupt through the gums. Most children have their full set of primary teeth in place by age three.
The teething process starts with the lower two front teeth (incisors), followed by the four incisors on both the lower and upper jaw. Then the first molars erupt, followed by canines (eye teeth), and then the second molars further back in the mouth.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
It is important for parents to understand the causes of baby bottle tooth decay so they can prevent it. Common triggers include milk, formula, and fruit juices, because the sugary liquids from these drinks pool around the teeth for long periods of time as your baby sleeps. This can lead to cavities, which develop in the upper and lower front teeth.
Some babies may have sore or tender gums when teeth begin to erupt. Gently rubbing the gums with a clean finger, an infant gum massager or a wet gauze pad can be soothing. A clean teething ring for your child to chew on may also help.
You can ease your child's teething discomfort by:
- Rubbing your baby’s gums to apply pressure
- Giving your baby a cold teething ring to chew on
Caring for your baby’s first teeth is very important, and helps set the stage for a healthy mouth.
Tips to clean your baby's mouth:
- Lay your infant in your lap. The head should be close to your chest so you can look down directly into your child's mouth.
- Clean the gums and the teeth — when they arrive — by rubbing a clean, damp, wash cloth along the baby's upper and lower gums. You can also use terrycloth finger cots, which fit over the finger and are made for this purpose.
- Follow these steps at least twice a day — once after breakfast, and once after the last feeding of the day.
- When the teeth begin to erupt, start brushing them at least two to three times a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and water. Toothpaste is not recommended until a child reaches age two. At that time, supervise brushing to ensure that your child does not swallow any toothpaste.
This harmful process occurs when acid formed by bacteria on the teeth, from sugars in foods and beverages, damages the tooth enamel, which causes demineralization, and eventually can lead to a cavity. To avoid tooth decay, never let a child fall asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth or to nurse continuously as he snoozes. If your baby needs something to suck on to fall asleep, offer a bottle filled with water or a pacifier.
If your child uses a pacifier, make sure it is always used safely: Never fasten a pacifier on a string or necklace around your child's neck, or else your child could accidentally be strangled.
Choose a pacifier that:
- Is one piece rather than several parts.
- Has ventilating holes on the sides.
- Is large enough so that your child can't swallow it.
- Is made of a flexible, nontoxic material.
- Has a handle that is easy to grasp.
- Always check the pacifier before giving it to your child. Make sure there are no rips or tears. If there are, replace it. Never dip a pacifier in honey or any other sweet substance before giving it to your baby.
Children's Oral Care
Brushing & Flossing
Begin using toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when he (or she) is 2 years old. Be careful to use only a small dab of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing, rather than spitting it out. Introduce fluoride toothpaste when your child is old enough not to swallow it. As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss or special plastic floss holders.
At some point, your child will want to brush his or her own teeth. It's fine to give him a turn. But afterwards, you should always brush your child's teeth a second time. Most children won't be able to brush their teeth well on their own until they are about 8 years old.
While what your child eats is important for healthy teeth, how often a child eats is just as important. Frequent snacking can increase a child's risk for tooth decay.
Cavities can develop when sugar-containing foods are allowed to stay in the mouth for a long time. Bacteria that live on the teeth feast on these bits of food. They create acid, which eats away at tooth enamel. Between meals or snacks, saliva washes away the acid. If your child is always eating, there may not be time for this acid to get washed away.
When most people think of sugar, they think of the white sugar that is found in candy and baked goods. But all foods that contain carbohydrates will ultimately break down into sugars.
New parents often ask, "When should my child first see a dentist?” Your child should see a dentist by his or her first birthday.
The idea of such early dental visits is still surprising to many new parents. However, national studies have shown that preschool-aged children are getting more cavities.
Losing Baby Teeth
On average children begin to lose their baby teeth when they are about 6 or 7 years old. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you child if they lose their teeth before or after this time. Most children lose their teeth in the same order they came in. For example, they lose their bottom center teeth first.
Children today tend to get braces at a much earlier age than in years past. Some patients with special problems begin orthodontic treatment as early as 6 years old. Permanent teeth begin to come in around this time, and it is when orthodontic problems become apparent. Because the jaw is still growing it’s an ideal time to evaluate a child.
Teen Oral Care
As teens continue to grow, they’re faced with certain dental issues, such as getting braces or having their wisdom teeth removed. Many of these procedures are a normal part of life, while others are proactive steps dentists take to help ensure a lifetime of oral health.
Here are some good things to share with your teen:
- Braces are about more than a pretty smile. Straight teeth also are easier to clean, promote healthy gums, give a balanced facial appearance and are less likely to get chipped.
- Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, don't always have enough room to emerge during the late teens to early 20’s. Impacted wisdom teeth can damage nearby teeth or cause infection, and may need special care.
- Bad breath, or halitosis, usually comes from bacteria that form on the tongue. In many cases, a simple change in your teen’s personal oral hygiene habits can freshen him up, starting with good oral hygiene, brush the tongue and keep regular visits to your dentist.
- Whitening those pearly whites can be done with whitening toothpastes, mouth rinses and toothbrushes. The dentist also offers whitening treatment options that are done in the dental office and at home.
- Tobacco products contain toxins that can cause carious types of cancer, gum disease, bad breath, tooth discoloration and a diminished sense of smell. It’s easier to kick a smoking habit earlier rather than later.
- Oral piercings can have adverse affects on the health of your tongue, lips, cheeks and uvula. Oral problems associated with swallowed/aspirated jewelry, speech impairment, fractured teeth and gingival recession can occur. Dental professionals are a great resource as they can educate teens about the hazards and potential complications of oral piercings.
Adults Oral Care
SThe key to keeping a bright, healthy smile throughout adulthood is to practice proper oral hygiene. Adults can get cavities, as well as gum disease that can lead to serious problems. Throughout your adult life, it's important to continue to:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove dental plaque – the sticky film on your teeth that's the main cause of tooth decay and inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis.
- Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gum line, before it can harden into tartar. Once tartar has formed, it can only be removed by a dental hygienist during a professional cleaning.
- Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks. The more often you snack between meals, the more chances you give bacteria to create the acids that attack your tooth enamel.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.
Oral Care Age 55+
As we all grow older, certain health concerns earn our full attention, especially the importance of oral health for seniors. We get one set of permanent teeth, so it's crucial to take care of them for our entire lives.
According to the Washington Dental Service Foundation (WDSF), around 75 percent of adults 60 and older only have a portion of their original teeth. Issues such as severe gum disease, which is common in about 23 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 to 74, can contribute to the loss of your natural teeth. Risks for conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, increase with poor oral health as well.
Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia, where there is a loss of brain function, which gradually gets worse over time affecting thinking, behavior and memory function. Alzheimer’s sufferers may forget how to brush teeth or why it is important, so caretakers must be patient and help them take care of their teeth.
Osteoporosis is a common medical issue, which causes bones in the body to become less dense and more likely to fracture. Women who have already gone through menopause are at the highest risk for developing the disease. When bone density in the mouth decreases, teeth can become loose. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), women with osteoporosis are 3 times more likely to loose a tooth than women without osteoporosis. Many people who have osteoporosis are given anti-resorptive medications to prevent or treat this condition. However, some of this medications cause a rare but serious condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw that can cause damage to the jawbone.