Survey data from women of childbearing age in the U.S. show that certain groups of pregnant women aren’t getting appropriate dental care.
Younger pregnant women, as well as non-Hispanic black and Mexican American women, and women with low family income or low education are not getting dental care as often as others, researchers found.
Experts say dental care is especially important during pregnancy.
“In general pregnant women should not have infections that might compromise the success of their pregnancy or their own health,” said Peter Milgrom, professor of Dental Public Health Sciences and Pediatric Dentistry in the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“Multiple researchers have shown an association between gum disease in pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes like prematurity and low birth weight,” Milgrom, who was not involved in the new research, told Reuters Health by email.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase the risk of oral health problems like gingivitis, he noted.
The disparities in this study match “what we see with other aspects of health disparities as well,” said senior author Eugenio Beltrán-Aguilar of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Beltran-Aguilar is also senior director at the Center for Scientific Strategies and Information for the American Dental Association.
Minorities and those of low socioeconomic status tend to have a higher burden of disease generally, so it’s no surprise that women in those groups often don’t get the dental care they need, Beltran-Aguilar told Reuters Health.
He and his coauthors suggest that prenatal visits could be used to check on women’s dental health and encourage them to take care of their teeth as part of overall health care.
To get a sense of how commonly women of childbearing age are getting dental care, the study team used data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, including 897 pregnant women and 3,971 non pregnant women between ages 15 and 44.
They specifically considered the responses to three survey questions, in which each woman rated the condition of her mouth and teeth, said how long ago she had last been to the dentist and the reason for the dental visit.
More pregnant women over age 35 (86 percent) said their teeth were in good condition, compared to 57 percent of pregnant women younger than 24.
For women who were not pregnant, the opposite was true: 75 percent of younger women said their mouths and teeth were in good condition compared to 68 percent of older women, according to the results in Preventing Chronic Disease.
White women and those with education beyond high school or high family income also reported better mouth and teeth condition.
Young pregnant women were less likely than their peers who were not pregnant to report going to the dentist over the past year, the researchers found.
For all women, having higher family income or higher education increased the likelihood of having gone to the dentist for preventive care.
“There are still some OB/GYNs and dentists who hesitate to give pregnant women dental treatment for fear of putting the child or mother at risk,” Beltran-Aguilar said. “But we have no evidence that dental treatment harms the woman in any way.”
When a woman learns she is pregnant, she should let her dentists know and make an appointment, he said, since the earlier in pregnancy she has her regular checkup, the more comfortable she will be.
Aside from necessary treatment, women who don’t get dental care during pregnancy also miss out on learning how to best provide for their new child, Milgrom said.
“Among the poor, adding sugar to formula or milk, giving toddlers excessive amounts of juice or juice drinks results in tooth decay at a very young age,” he said. “Not all dentists provide this type of counseling so it’s important to seek out one who has this interest and knowledge.”
Trained dentists can also teach new mothers to use small amounts of fluoride toothpaste when kids are young that will protect the kids from tooth decay, he said.
Many states provide Medicaid dental coverage for pregnant women, he noted.