Pregnancy causes hormonal changes that increase your risk for developing oral health problems like gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (gum disease). As a result of varying hormone levels, 40% of women will develop gingivitis sometime during their pregnancy -- a condition called pregnancy gingivitis.
The increased level of progesterone in pregnancy may make it easier for certain gingivitis-causing bacteria to grow, as well as make gum tissue more sensitive to plaque and exaggerate the body's response to the toxins (poisons) that result from plaque. In fact, if you already have significant gum disease, being pregnant may make it worse.
Symptoms of Gum Disease in Pregnancy
Usually, gum inflammation appears between the second and eighth month of pregnancy. Signs of pregnancy gingivitis range from redder- looking gums that bleed a little when brushing teeth, to severe swelling and bleeding of gum tissue.
Tips to Prevent Pregnancy Gingivitis
First, to prevent pregnancy gingivitis it is especially important to practice good oral hygiene habits, which include brushing at least twice a day, flossing once a day, and using an antimicrobial mouth rinse. If you are due for a professional cleaning, don't skip it simply because you are pregnant. Now more than ever, professional dental cleanings are particularly important.
Gum disease that doesn't get better may need to treated by a dental professional. Treatments may include antibiotics and excision of affected tissue.
Gum Disease and Premature Birth
At least a couple of major studies have shown that there is a link between gum disease and premature birth. Researchers of one study who published their results in The Journal of the American Dental Association found that pregnant women with chronic gum disease were four to seven times more likely to deliver prematurely (before gestational week 37) and underweight babies than mothers with healthy gums.
Mothers with the most severe periodontal disease delivered the most prematurely, at 32 weeks. Whether treating gum disease reduces the risk of preterm birth is not yet known.
Sometimes a large lump with deep red pinpoint markings on it forms on inflamed gum tissue, usually near the upper gum line. The red lump glistens, may bleed and crust over, and can make eating and speaking difficult and cause discomfort. These growths are called pregnancy tumors and can occur at any time during the course of pregnancy, although they usually occur during the second trimester.
Don't let the word ''tumor'' worry you. These growths are not cancerous nor can be spread to others. A pregnancy tumor is an extreme inflammatory reaction to a local irritation (such as food particles or plaque). The tumors occur in up to 10% of pregnant women and often in women who also have pregnancy gingivitis.
Pregnancy tumors are also known by several other names, including pyogenic granuloma, granuloma of pregnancy, lobular capillary hemangioma, and pregnancy epulides.
Treatments for Pregnancy Tumors
Pregnancy tumors usually disappear on their own after the baby's birth. However, if the tumor interferes with eating, your dentist or a specialist may choose to remove it. This involves a simple procedure performed under local anesthesia. It should be kept in mind that even if the tumor is removed during pregnancy, it redevelops in about half the cases. If the lump is not removed, your dentist will try to determine the possible cause that triggered the tumor's development -- such as plaque buildup -- and remove it.
You can help prevent or reduce the likelihood that a pregnancy tumor will develop by following good oral hygiene habits at home (brushing twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing once a day, using an antimicrobial mouth rinse) during your pregnancy.