The pregnant mama’s guide to dental health

"Gain a child, lose a tooth" is an old wives' tale that warns of your unborn child leaching calcium from your teeth in order to grow its own pearly whites. While that's not quite how it works, dental care is important for pregnant women, as Tiffany Brown explains.

When you become pregnant, you become responsible for creating a little human being, right there inside yourself. Amazing, isn't it? What you might not realise is that your pregnant body will prioritise your baby's needs for growth and development ahead of your own. (Just when you thought your swollen ankles, morning sickness, and forgetfulness were punishment enough!) Your baby's nutrition requirements can be drawn from where they are available in your body in order to grow their little body inside you. Vital nutrients like calcium, phosphorous and other minerals may literally be pulled from your bones in order to supply your infant. This drain on your body's resources, combined with massive hormonal changes during pregnancy producing increased blood flow, can make for a tough time for your mouth and teeth. Gums may be sensitive, swollen, inflamed, and tender to the touch, while tooth pain and sensitivity are also common. Hot and cold foods can trigger or worsen these sensitivities, and many pregnant women may experience gum disease and an increased likelihood of tooth decay. This just goes to show how important it is for pregnant women to go to a Manchester dentist while still pregnant because they can identify these issues before they end up losing a tooth.

The tooth of it ...and phosphorus and vitamin d, too

Because your baby needs calcium...

At around four months' gestation, your baby's teeth and bones begin to calcify, increasing calcium requirements, with a further growth period and dramatic increase in the need for essential minerals at around seven months' gestation. The main component of teeth, calcium is the most important mineral for you to supply to your baby as he or she develops. It is obtained by your body through calcium-rich foods, and its absorption is affected

by various factors. Although dairy products can be a good source of calcium, green leafy vegetables are more calcium-dense, so it's wise to include both in your diet. Green leafy vegetables are also great for you and your baby as they contain additional minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and iron. In descending order: Watercress, pak choi, fresh basil, rocket, and cooked spinach are the vegetables most commonly available with the highest concentration of calcium. Lemons and oranges are also surprisingly high in calcium, and the boost of vitamin C in these citrus fruits is helpful for your immunity while pregnant.

Phosphorous is the mineral that makes teeth hard, and is easier to come by in the diet than calcium. High-protein foods like meat and milk are rich sources of phosphorous, as are beans, nuts, and lentils. While naturally obtained vitamins and minerals are superior to those obtained by supplements, if you are unable to include the right foods in your diet, you may need to take supplements (talk to your LMC if you're concerned). Maintaining an adequate vitamin D level is essential for effective absorption of calcium and phosphorous in the body, so be sure to get some safe sun exposure every day if possible. Remember, most sunblock preparations screen out the UVB rays required for the skin to make vitamin D. Exercise is also important in order for your body to absorb minerals well. And because water carries nutrients from you to your baby through the placenta, ensure you are drinking enough fluids. A sunny walk each day followed by a long drink of water with a squeeze of lemon sounds nice!

Caution: stay away from these

For the sake of your health and your baby's health, caffeine, alcohol, smoking, drugs, and many medications (like certain antibiotics) should be avoided during pregnancy so as to not interfere with proper absorption of vitamins and minerals and thus to pass on good nutrition to your baby. If you do need antibiotics, your LMC, dentist and/or doctor will be able to prescribe a course that's safe for pregnancy.

Need to know: here are some commonly asked questions about teeth during pregnancy.

Q: does pregnancy wreck your teeth?

A : Not necessarily. It is thought that hormones affect your body's ability to deal with plaque and bacteria in the mouth when you are pregnant, giving rise to an increased risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and discomfort in the mouth. But not all pregnant women will experience this.

Q : What can I do to avoid tooth problems in pregnancy?

A : Many cultures believe a robust pre-conception period of care for both parents ensures a healthy pregnancy. Preparations mainly involve eating a diet rich in the iron and minerals required by your developing baby. Foods include wild-caught fish and fish roe, cod liver oil, oysters, clams, and mussels, organic, free-range eggs, liver, walnuts, coconut, bone marrow, yams, and fresh figs. Investigating these traditional ways of preparing parents for conception can maximise your nutrient profile, putting you in the best position to nurture your growing infant.

Q : what about morning sickness?

A : Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse" Dental advice is to wait at least 30 minutes after throwing up before you brush your teeth. The acid produced by your stomach will assault your teeth as its contents make their return journey, so it's wise to leave your mouth to recover by neutralising that acid with saliva before you introduce the toothbrush.

As seen in BUMP + Baby Issue 06 on sale now! Go to bumpandbaby.co.nz

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