Perinatal and Infant Oral Health
During pregnancy, sometimes the last thing on an expectant mother’s mind is scheduling a visit to the dentist. However, scientists have discovered that there is a link between maternal periodontal disease and gestational diabetes, maternal preeclampsia, premature babies, and babies born with low birth weight.
The “perinatal” period of pregnancy begins around the 20–28-week mark and ends 1-4 weeks after the infant is born. This is a crucial time for the child’s oral and overall health, so it is important for mothers to maintain excellent oral health throughout their pregnancy.
The importance of perinatal dental checkups
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that expectant mothers get dental counseling and checkups regularly to promote prevention, intervention, and treatment of health conditions that could harm the child.
Maternal cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria can lead to a wide array of health concerns for infants and young children. To avoid these concerns, expectant mothers should:
Chew xylitol gum – Xylitol is a natural substance that has been proven to reduce the likelihood of cavities in infants and toddlers when chewed 3-5 times a day by the expectant mother. Look for the ingredient “xylitol” when choosing gum. No other sugar substitute has been proven to have health benefits.
Brush and floss daily
– ADA-approved toothpaste and floss should be used at least twice a day to get rid of harmful oral bacteria. An alcohol-free mouthwash should also be used frequently.
Evaluate their diet – Expectant mothers are recommended to cut down on sugars and starchy foods during their pregnancy, as these provide sustenance for oral bacteria and promote tooth decay. A balanced, nourishing diet is always important, but it is essential during pregnancy.
Schedule regular dental appointments
– Dentists can provide expectant mothers with advice and strategies for reducing oral bacteria, as well as supply them with the necessary tips and tools for maintaining a proper preventative homecare routine.
Caring for an infant’s gums and teeth
Once the child is born, there are certain steps the parents must take to prevent childhood tooth decay and periodontal disease. What many parents do not realize is that harmful cariogenic bacteria can be transmitted from their own mouths to their children.
For this reason, parents should avoid sharing eating utensils with their children and should wash pacifiers using warm water as opposed to “cleaning” them with their mouths.
To maintain and enhance their child’s oral health, parents should:
Brush and floss the child’s teeth – As soon as the child’s first tooth emerges, parents should maintain the tooth’s health and strength by brushing and flossing twice a day. Parents should use an ADA-approved soft-bristled toothbrush and a non-fluoridated toothpaste (for children under two). The pediatric dentist can offer parents advice on the best way to brush and floss the infant’s teeth.
Use pacifiers properly – Pacifiers are a wonderful tool for soothing and comforting infants but can lead to tooth decay if not used properly. Parents should only purchase orthodontically correct pacifiers. Parents should also never dip pacifiers in sweet liquids such as honey.
Use drinking glasses – Infant and toddler tooth decay is largely caused by baby bottles and sippy cups. The use of these allows for the continuous swirl of liquid around the child’s teeth and mouth, and unless the bottle or sippy cup is filled with water, sugar will coat the child’s teeth. This fosters bacterial growth and tooth decay. Sugary liquids such as milk, breast milk, sweetened water, juice, soda, or formula should be offered to the child in an adult drinking glass after the child’s first birthday.
Wipe the child’s gums – After every feeding, parents should clean the infant’s gums and teeth using a damp cloth. This greatly reduces the number of oral bacteria in the mouth and minimizes the risk of cavities.
Visit the pediatric dentist regularly – Around the child’s first birthday, or approximately six months after their first tooth emerges, parents should take their child in for a “well-baby” checkup. The pediatric dentist will have the chance to examine the child’s jaw and tooth development, check for cavities, and provide tips for future oral care. Children should see the dentist every six months.
To express any questions or concerns you may have about perinatal and infant oral health maintenance, please contact 1st Impression Dental.