Many mothers and mothers-to-be do not realize that their actions can affect their baby. This article is not meant to touch on all possibilities, but just to discuss a few that are dentally related.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) in the mother is linked to babies with low birth weight (and some are even preemies). Some studies estimate that there’s a 7% chance that your baby will be born too early or too small. This is thought to be because periodontal disease causes increased levels of prostaglandins which may induce contractions and early labor.
How easily periodontal disease is controlled depends on how severe your case is. Ideally, you should see your dentist before you get pregnant and start off your pregnancy with it under control. Be sure to follow your oral care providers recommendations to keep your mouth healthy during your pregnancy. If you have not seen a dentist prior to your pregnancy, you should do so as soon as possible.
Low birthweight babies have increased risk of health problems throughout life. Some need nutritional supplements to thrive. These early feeding patterns contribute to lifelong eating habits. Increased frequency of sugar consumption and increased between meal snacking is seen in low birthweight children, putting them at greater risk for cavities throughout life.
Preemies (babies delivered prematurely) often have defects in their dental enamel—the outer covering of their teeth. (Dental enamel formation does not complete until a few months after birth. Enamel defects may also be linked to trauma from intubation and/or laryngoscopy both of which are often necessary for preemies.) . This type of enamel defect is a known risk factor for cavities and the four top front teeth are the ones most often affected by the enamel defects. Over their lives, preemies have about twice as many cavities as full term babies.
Believe it or not, the microflora (bacteria, fungi etc.) in an infant’s gut is important to his or her dental health. Studies have shown that how a baby is delivered impacts the microflora. Children delivered vaginally had higher levels of certain cavity causing bacteria vs. children delivered by C-section BUT vaginally delivered children also had higher levels of other bacteria that have been linked to good oral health vs. those delivered by C-section. Vaginally delivered children had an oral environment that is much more active and diverse than that C-section babies.
Exposure to tobacco smoke early in life also seems to increase the likelihood of dental cavities in children, so it is best to try to avoid environments where they could be exposed to tobacco smoke.
(Note: This article is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your health care professionals.)
Jennifer G. Robb, DMD is a general dentist who treats both adults and children in her dental practice.
1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053