Bleeding Gums During Pregnancy – The One Dental Problem Every Expectant Mother Needs to Get Correct Right Away

Bleeding gums during pregnancy are part of a syndrome called pregnancy gingivitis. When a woman who is pregnant asks herself “Why are my gums bleeding?” the answer is that this dental problem is partly due to morning sickness, and partly due to hormones, and partly just a continuation of gingivitis that existed before the baby was conceived.

Morning sickness causes vomiting, and vomit carries stomach acid. The acid from the stomach can erode the enamel of the teeth and also cause irritation of the gums.

Pregnancy greatly increases production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones don’t just affect a woman’s body. They also affect the growth of a kind of bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis, making it even more inflammatory than usual.

But the main cause of bleeding of the gums during pregnancy is the same as bleeding of the gums at any other time in a woman’s life. It’s simply due to gingivitis. About one in four women under the age of 54 gets gingivitis. But during pregnancy, the consequences can be deadly for the baby.

pregnancyThat’s because the woman’s immune system attempts to get rid of gingivitis bacteria by causing inflammation. Other than during pregnancy, about the worst thing that can happen is that the inflammation doesn’t succeed in killing the bacteria but does succeed in killing gum tissue. During pregnancy, however, inflammation can set up a reaction in the baby’s immune system that damages the placenta.

If the placenta is inflamed, the unborn child can’t get needed nutrients. The mother’s blood pressure may rise, sometimes dangerously so. The child may be born with low birth weight, or born prematurely, or even stillborn, all because of the side effects of inflammation in the gums.

Women who have gingivitis are nearly 400 per cent more likely to deliver prematurely. They are more likely to suffer stillbirth. They are also more likely to suffer preeclampsia and eclampsia, sometimes with permanent damage to their own health, and in rare cases, death.

What are the early-warning signs of pregnancy gingivitis?

  • Shiny gums
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Bleeding after flossing
  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • A bad taste, especially a metallic taste, in your mouth that won’t go away
  • Sores on the sides of your mouth

The hormonal changes caused by pregnancy can make gingivitis bacteria grow a lot faster and make symptoms progress a lot faster.

That’s why, during pregnancy, it’s not a good idea to try to treat bleeding gums on your own. When your baby’s health is at stake, don’t just switch toothpastes and use mouthwash if you see bleeding from your gums.

See your dentist before gingivitis has a chance to become a more system problem. Dental care is critical. It also helps to use a toothpaste that does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, avoid sticky sweets, make sure you don’t become dehydrated, and, yes, brush your teeth and floss. But if you get gingivitis treated early and make sure you follow good oral hygiene, this risk factor is very easily eliminated.

Selected References:

Canakci V, Canakci CF, Canakci H, et al. Periodontal disease as a risk factor for pre-eclampsia: a case-control study. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2004;44(6):568-73

Offenbacher S, Katz V, Fertik G, et al. Periodontal infection as a possible risk factor for preterm low birth weight. J Periodontol 1996;67(supplement 10):1103-13.

Radnai M, Gorzo I, Nagy E, Urban E, Novak T, Pal A. A possible association between preterm birth and early periodontitis: a pilot study. J Clin Periodontol 2004;31(9):736-41