While the necessity of flossing is currently up for debate, the importance of seeing your dentist during pregnancy certainly isn't. A national survey released by Cigna found that 43 percent of pregnant women are skipping out on out dental appointments.
The survey also discovered only 55 percent of women rate their oral health as very good or excellent during pregnancy, compared to 63 percent of women pre-pregnancy. This drop off is concerning; preventative dental checkups are arguably most essential during pregnancy.
"Pregnancy brings a unique situation," Timothy Pruett, DMD, creator of Flossolution, tells The Bump. "As your body progresses through each term, your cells increasingly retain fluids, including your gum tissues. Coupled with elevated hormone levels, this can cause a heightened inflammatory response to the presence of bacterial biofilm (plaque) resulting in puffy and inflamed gums in expectant mothers. Those puffy gums make you more susceptible to gingivitis and periodontal disease. It’s important to floss to remove the bacterial biofilm that initiate the inflammation."
Pruett adds that flossing correctly is of upmost importance.
"If you are using a sawing motion and/or cutting the gums, you are asking for problems," he says. "We like to tell our pregnant patients to be meticulous and gentle with oral hygiene. If you’re not a regular flosser or do not know how to floss properly, I would advise to skip it until you contact your dentist or dental hygienist and ask how to do it properly."
Although 76 percent of women admit to suffering from oral health problems during pregnancy, such as bleeding gums or toothaches, not all are taking action. The pressing question: Why not? The primary reason—even among those with dental benefits—is cost.
“Dental checkups are so important that most dental benefit plans cover preventive care visits every six months with no or low out-of-pocket costs," says Dr. Miles Hall, Cigna's chief clinical dental director. He says that although costs may seem intimidating, “some dental benefit plans even have special maternity programs with additional services like extra cleanings or discounts on oral health prescriptions.”
Women who took advantage of the programs through their benefit plan had better oral health habits than others. While 62 percent of women regularly brush their teeth at least twice a day, that percentage rose to 76 percent among women participating or who have participated in a dental benefit plan maternity program. Similarly, 48 percent of women reported flossing at least once a day, but those rates surge to 81 percent among participating women.
Cigna is calling for medical professionals to include oral health in their patient discussions.
“There is a clear action step for physicians, and significant gains to be made when there is an integrated effort to help patients understand the connection between oral health and overall wellness," says Dr. Stacie Rivers, Cigna medical director for maternal programs and an ob-gyn.