Your Child’s Oral Health Begins Before They’re Born
Oral health doesn’t just start once your baby gets their first tooth. Since babies are born with both their baby and adult teeth already forming and waiting to erupt, pregnant mothers can do a lot to influence their child’s oral health over the course of their life! From nutrition to oral care to sharing habits, there are a ton of ways to support and promote your little one’s oral health.
Tooth Formation in the Womb
Babies begin to form their primary teeth around the sixth week of pregnancy and, once a mother enters the second trimester, the baby’s tooth development begins in earnest. The middle layer of teeth, called dentin, begins to form and harden, as does the outer layer of enamel. Mineralization of primary teeth starts, and permanent adult teeth also begin forming above and below primary teeth in the skull and jaw. During the third-trimester, mineralization really picks up - as much as two-thirds of the calcium and phosphorus your baby’s teeth needs are deposited!
Oral Health Can Change During Pregnancy
Unsurprisingly, a mother’s health, nutrition, and microbiota can really affect an unborn child’s teeth. Not only does the baby need ample nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from their mother to build up a healthy body and strong teeth, but their mother needs good oral health too.
It is unfortunate, then, that up to 40% of expecting mothers have some form of periodontal disease such as gingivitis, caries, or periodontitis. Given the changes that can occur during pregnancy, this high percentage isn’t a total surprise. Due to hormonal changes, pregnancy cravings, and increased nausea or vomiting, tooth health can really be affected. Some pregnant women may find that they experience gingivitis, loosened teeth, temporary tumors in their gums, tooth erosion, or even cavity development. Together, all of this may mean an increase in bad bacteria in their oral microbiome, leading to a decrease in beneficial bacteria.
To help mitigate some of these effects, there are some home remedies that many women find helpful. Rinsing with a salt-water solution can help with pregnancy gingivitis. For women who have problems with morning sickness, vomiting, or even gastric reflux, rinsing with a baking soda and water mixture can help neutralize some of the acidity. Being mindful of not snacking too often, especially on sugary and starchy snacks, can reduce the risk of cavities. Even if you do snack often, immediately drinking or rinsing with water can help reduce some of the effects. Visiting a dentist to discuss your specific dental health needs during your pregnancy is always a great idea.
Effect of the Mother’s Health on a Developing Baby
While the symptoms listed above are of course uncomfortable for the mother, there are also effects on the baby. While the correlation between poor oral health, periodontal disease, and pregnancy complications is still being determined, there have been studies that have linked the two. Harmful bacteria, proteins, and inflammation in the mouth can affect other parts of the body, which could play a part in causing early labor. Short pregnancies and low birth weight are also detrimental to long-term oral health in children since tooth development can be affected. Dentin may not form properly, enamel may be rough and weak, and teeth may be under-mineralized overall. Each of these factors may be caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies and can lead to an increased risk of cavities, gum disease, inflammation, and other conditions.
How to Support Your Baby’s Oral Health During Pregnancy
It is a great idea to get a check-up with your primary care physician and your dentist before getting pregnant. You can learn about any existing conditions and the state of your oral health, so you can begin to prepare well. Good oral habits, good nutrition, and even prenatal vitamins can all work together to get your body to a healthy state.
Once you are pregnant, your body begins to change quite a bit! Your growing baby will require different levels of nutrients at different stages, so it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor on the best ways to get ample nutrition at each stage. Here are a few specific vitamins and minerals that you can focus on to help promote good tooth formation (and help support your teeth and gums, too!):
- Calcium is one of the main building blocks of teeth and bones and helps to harden enamel. Dairy products, salmon, and broccoli are great sources!
- Phosphorus is found readily in a lot of foods, which is great given that it supports calcium absorption and is vital to the strong formation of every layer of teeth. Seafood, soybeans, and pumpkin seeds contain lots of phosphorous.
- Magnesium and potassium help support the full formation of teeth and bones. Dark leafy greens are a great way to consume these minerals.
- Vitamin D partners with the body and encourages it to absorb as much calcium from foods as possible. It makes sense, then, that proper intake of vitamin D helps protect against a number of tooth development issues. While the best source is the sun, supplements can be a great source, too.
- Vitamin A helps teeth to form correctly and fully and helps support healthy mucous membranes. Fish, egg yolks, and leafy greens are all high in vitamin A.
- Vitamin C, commonly found in leafy greens, bell peppers, and citrus fruits, is super important for gum health! It helps form strong and disease-resistance gums that support teeth and are resilient.
- Last but not least, fluoride is also important for your baby’s teeth to form well! Not only will it support the mother’s oral health, but it helps support all the good work of the vitamins and minerals listed above.
Don’t Forget About the Basics, Even After Birth
Of course, focusing on good oral health through proper care and cleaning is important too. Brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, and proper use of fluoride all work together to mitigate some of the side effects of pregnancy listed above, as well as keep your body healthy. Beyond that, these habits all support good oral microbiota. While reducing levels of bad bacteria in the mouth during pregnancy is important to help minimize the risk of preterm labor, it is important to focus on this after giving birth, too.
Fascinatingly enough, each of us has an influence on the oral microbiota of the people we live with. One study found that living together with other people results in a very similar composition of types and levels of oral bacteria, particularly when it comes to bad bacteria. And, because babies are still forming their microbiome until they are around 3 years old, being exposed to some of the oral bacteria adults have in their mouths can increase their risk of cavities and gum disease. It is a great idea to try to protect them from the transfer of oral bacteria. Not sharing food, utensils, and cups is a great way to minimize spreading harmful bacteria. You can also prevent spreading something harmful to your baby by not kissing them on the mouth, as well as always keeping separate toothbrushes for each member of your family.
As you can see, working to have great oral health at every stage of pregnancy and postpartum life will pay off. Not only will a healthier oral microbiome help support your overall health, but it will also help lower your child’s risk of gum disease and cavities. A win-win situation!
At Jungle Roots, we love to support parents and their children as they grow through every stage of development. If you have questions about how to help your baby, toddler, child, or teen, please call! We would love to discuss your family’s unique needs with you and help build up your children’s oral health.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.