There’s so much to think about when you get a positive pregnancy test. When should you make your first prenatal appointment? Will you have a boy or girl? Is baby doing OK in there?

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy, on the other hand, probably isn’t high on your priority list. But the hormonal changes during pregnancy can wreak havoc on your oral health.

Here’s more about gingivitis during pregnancy, how to prevent it, and what treatments are available to you.

What is pregnancy gingivitis?

If you’ve brushed or flossed your teeth and noticed a considerable amount of blood, pain, or swelling, you may have gingivitis.

During pregnancy, your progesterone hormone levels are high. This increase makes you more susceptible to developing the bacterial plaque that can attack your gums.

Symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • swollen gums
  • tender, puffy gums
  • bleeding gums
  • receding gums
  • red gums
  • bad breath

Pregnancy gingivitis most commonly develops between months 2 and 8. It may reach a peak during the third trimester. Pregnant women also face an increased risk of both tooth decay and loose teeth.

Your dentist may recommend that you schedule a cleaning appointment sometime in the second or third trimester to assess your overall oral health.

How to prevent pregnancy gingivitis

You may not be able to control your hormones, but there are many things you can do to protect your teeth and gums before and during your pregnancy.

1. Practice good oral hygiene

Ideally, you should brush your teeth twice each day. Toothpaste that contains fluoride provides an extra barrier of protection. Does brushing feel uncomfortable these days? Make sure you’re using a soft toothbrush. It won’t irritate your tender gums quite as much as firmer varieties.

While you’re at it, make sure you’re flossing at least once each day. Flossing helps catch any trapped food particles and bacteria.

Taking the extra time is well worth your effort. You may even be able to reverse the damage and inflammation done to your teeth and gums by putting consistent brushing and flossing habits into place.

2. Eat a healthy diet

You may not feel the best during pregnancy, especially in your first trimester. But try to eat a diet rich in balanced, whole foods. Eat a variety of:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • dairy products

Choose water or milk over juices and sodas. Stay away from foods that are sugary or starchy, like candy, cookies/cakes, and dried fruits. Over time, all those sugars and starches can attack your teeth and gums.

These nutrition tips aren’t just good for your mouth, they’re also great to follow if you want to keep your body and baby-to-be healthy.

3. Gargle with sea salt

Starting to notice a little swelling or bleeding when you brush? Add a salt gargle to your routine.

Sea salt may reduce inflammation from gingivitis and help to heal your gums. To try this at home, dilute 1 teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of warm water. Swish this mixture around in your mouth a few times and spit out (don’t swallow) when you’re done.

4. Visit your dentist

One of the best ways to prevent pregnancy gingivitis is to stay in close contact with your dentist. You should have dental visits twice a year, even when pregnant. Don’t miss your scheduled cleanings and ask about additional appointments to help monitor your oral health. Your dentist can spot small issues before they turn into large problems.

Treatments for pregnancy gingivitis

If these tips for prevention aren’t working, or you’ve already developed a bad case of gingivitis, your dentist can help. You may be prescribed oral antibiotics that fight bacterial infection.

There are also prescription-strength mouthwashes that can treat gum disease. In advanced cases, surgery is an option.

Make sure your dentist knows about any allergies to medications you may have. You should provide a list of all the vitamins, supplements, and other over-the-counter or prescription medications you’re taking in your pregnancy to avoid potential drug interactions.

Complications of pregnancy gingivitis

Gingivitis can cause complications in your mouth and even for your pregnancy. Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease that can spread down to the bone. If you develop periodontitis, your baby-to-be may be at an increased risk of preterm birth or low birth weight, among other health conditions.

Remember, the gums hold your teeth in place. If left untreated, gingivitis may eventually lead to tooth loss.

When to see your dentist

Contact your dentist if you’ve noticed any changes in your teeth or gums that you think should be immediately addressed.

Sometimes pregnant women develop what are called “pregnancy tumors” on the gums. These lumps are benign and usually go away after you deliver. Still, they can bleed and your dentist can remove them if they bother you.

Tell your dentist about your pregnancy, even if you haven’t told your friends and family. This information is important so you can get the best care. You should also keep up with regularly scheduled cleanings during your pregnancy and ask your dentist if they recommend more frequent visits.

You can usually schedule X-rays for after your pregnancy if you’re worried about the risk of radiation.

If your dentist does need to perform an X-ray, you’ll be given an apron to lay over your abdomen and another one to cover your thyroid for safety.

Next steps

You have a lot to think about during pregnancy. But it’s important to add a few items to your list:

  • brush and floss regularly
  • eat healthy food
  • gargle a little salt
  • keep up with regular dental cleaning appointments
  • limit sugary foods and drinks

The good news is that after you deliver your baby, your gums should return back to normal relatively quickly. If you continue to experience pain and discomfort, let your dentist know.