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Pregnancy and Oral Health

On at least three separate occasions, I can remember having the privilege of breaking the news of a young woman's pregnancy from my side of the dental chair. I use the word "privilege" with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, however. After all, the diagnosis was only determined because of the patient's distinctively red, tender, and very swollen gums.


Talk about taking the good news with the bad. Known as pregnancy gingivitis, this unpleasant condition, affecting 50 to 75% of all expectant mothers, is often assumed to be one of the natural consequences of the hormonal changes found in pregnant women. The hormones involved, estrogen and progesterone, are secreted in progressively greater concentrations throughout most of pregnancy. But it is not the hormones that are the culprits.

You may even have gum disease already; its symptoms are not always obvious and it afflicts as many as 4 out of 5 people. Growing evidence links gum infections with increased risk of premature and underweight births -- not to mention heart attack, stroke, diabetes, ulcers and other serious systemic problems. Pregnant women who have gum infections are more prone to having a baby that is born too early and too small. Fortunately, with the right self-care, this does not have to affect you.

A new "take" on tooth brushing

You need to transform the relationship you have probably had your entire life to cleaning your teeth. If you are like me, when you think of cleaning, you probably think of dirt. I clean the dirt off my car. Your mouth is not dirty like your car, your windows, or your kitchen floor. It doesn't have dust and grime. Rather, your mouth contains a tiny world of living bacteria, a very complex society of microorganisms, not unlike your own community in the ways its residents work together and support each other's activities. There are over 400 different kinds of tiny and varied species of germ life so small they can only be viewed with a microscope and identified with bacterial cultures in a laboratory. This collection of microbes is composed of billions of teeny-tiny microscopic "bugs," some good, some bad. Left to themselves and undisturbed, the bad bugs can develop into disease-causing plaques or biofilms that live on your teeth, their roots, and the areas around them, under your gums. If not controlled, specific bugs may cause Periodontitis, the infections that break down your teeth and the supporting structures that hold your teeth in your jaws.

Today, we know that tooth decay, gum diseases, abscesses, pus, and bone loss are all caused by bacterial infections. Brushing and flossing, the traditional means of mechanically cleaning your teeth are just not enough. If they were, 3/4 of the population of the United States would not have gum diseases and the systemic illnesses associated with these types of infections. You must learn to control the harmful germ-life that affect the wellness of your mouth, your body, and your unborn child, both chemically and mechanically.

Dr. Paul H. Keyes, a former Senior Researcher at the National Institutes of Health advises, "You must disorganize, disperse, detoxify and disinfect the bacterial biofilms that colonize on the surfaces of the teeth."

According to Dr. Keyes, "The therapeutic value of tooth brushing is attained not only by its potential to mechanically remove food particles and bacterial plaques, but also its ability to deliver antibacterial agents to the surfaces of your teeth and gums which have not been adequately "debugged" by the mechanical measures you have used."

So, from now on, I want you to think about self-care methods that will decontaminate, disinfect and "de-bug" your teeth. It is from this new perspective that I am going to introduce you to anti-bacterial oral hygiene that will ensure excellent dental health.

Tooth brushing is deserving of an entire chapter. Here you will learn the importance of brushing your teeth, how to brush your teeth, different types of brushes, and even how many different surfaces a tooth has. (The answer might surprise you!)

Our earliest memories of both dentists and their offices usually center around the toothbrush. The big one the dentist or hygienist used on the model teeth to show us how to brush, certainly, but also the FREE one we got to take home when our visit was over!

From the beginning, you may have been bombarded with a flurry of conflicting of instructions on how to perform this vital ritual. Is it up and down? Side to side? Medium bristle? Hard? Soft? And…the biggest question of all: What in the heck is that little Hershey's Kiss-shaped thing on the end of the brush?

No matter how you learned to brush, the simple fact is that you should keep brushing, Brush to disinfect rather than just clean.

As a disinfectant, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) mixed with a tiny bit of salt, and hydrogen peroxide is hard to beat. When mixed as a paste, it will detoxify and disinfect the bacterial biofilms that colonize on the crowns and roots of your teeth and your gums. The easiest way to use this combination is to dip your toothbrush into a capful of peroxide to moisten the bristles. Then dip the brush into the baking soda. The powder will adhere to the moistened bristles and can be applied with the brush along the gum line, or even lightly worked under the gums with the little Hershey's Kiss-shaped doodad on the end of the toothbrush. . If the taste is objectionable a little mouthwash can be added to the peroxide. Another approach is to apply any toothpaste you like, and then dip the brush into some baking soda. ****************

Sheila Wolf, known affectionately as "Mama Gums," has been practicing dental hygiene for 32 years. Working at the leading edge of non-surgical periodontal care, her mission is to educate and empower people to take control of their own mouths. She has brought her message to places as far apart as California and Connecticut, Israel, Africa, and the hills of Kentucky. Her latest project is her book, Pregnancy and Oral Health…the critical connection between your mouth and your baby, due to be published this summer. Sheila can be reached at (619) 287-3151 or at www.Mamagums.com

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