Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but growing a tiny human inside the body can take a toll on the mother’s health. The baby receives its nutrients from the mother, so prenatal health and supplementation are crucial for those expecting. With that said, people have recently become more aware of obstructive sleep apnea, and hundreds of patients are being diagnosed every day across the country, including pregnant women. The known effects of pregnancy on oral health combined with sleep apnea are a cause for concern for expectant mothers, but the risks are not widely discussed.
How Pregnancy Affects Teeth
Data shows that nearly 60-75% of pregnant women suffer from gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease. Gums become red and swollen due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, and if left untreated, can result in bone and tooth loss and infection. Those who have weak bone support for their teeth can experience looseness and may even require extractions. Periodontitis has been shown to affect developing babies as well, including low birth weight, which shows how deeply connected a mother’s health is to the baby.
Pregnant women are more prone to cavities, especially those who have changed their eating habits and those who have untreated cavities. In fact, 1 in 4 women of childbearing age has untreated cavities due to neglect, lack of access to dental care, and poor dietary habits. It’s been shown that the offspring of mothers who have a large number of untreated cavities are also more likely to have poor dental health and tooth loss at a rate of three times more than their peers.
Sleep Apnea During Pregnancy
A study of 3,000 pregnant women found that 8.3% of them developed sleep apnea through their pregnancy. This likely occurs due to the influx of the hormone estrogen, which can cause swelling of mucus membranes in the nose, leading to mouth breathing. Continued mouth breathing worsens the condition creating more irritation in the back of the throat where the obstruction occurs during sleep. Loud snoring is common for pregnant women with sleep apnea, and partially hindered breathing has been reported. While obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can happen to any pregnant woman, those who gain a substantial amount of weight while expecting are at higher risk, as are those who were overweight or obese before becoming pregnant. Obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy can affect the mother and baby significantly and shouldn’t be ignored. If a pregnant woman is receiving less oxygen through the night, that means the baby is also.
How do Sleep Apnea and Pregnancy Affect Teeth?
OSA and pregnancy heavily affect oral health in their own ways, but when combined, the risks of gingivitis, cavities, and potential tooth loss are increased substantially. Dentists are limited in procedures they can use while women are with children, so preventative care is essential. Experts also suggest that women have routine cleanings while pregnant and for those at higher risk every three months. While dentists can’t diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, they’re able to notice the signs quickly, and by seeing pregnant patients for frequent cleanings, they’re also equipped to monitor the condition.
Pregnant women who feel they’re at significant risk of oral health issues are encouraged to speak with their dentists at any point during their pregnancy. Those with suspected OSA can be referred to sleep specialists who can diagnose the condition and offer healthy solutions for the mother and unborn child. There are options for pregnant women with OSA, but the key is recognizing the signs before they become severe.
Speak to your dentist today if you’re concerned about OSA and your oral health during pregnancy to learn more.