If you neglected your teeth and mouth during a recent pregnancy, be sure to head for the dentist as soon as you can. During pregnancy, some women are prone to gum disease, a buildup of bacteria in plaque that can cause swelling, bleeding, redness and tenderness -- but sometimes shows no symptoms at all.
Though gum disease often disappears when the pregnancy ends, in some cases it persists or causes damage to the supporting fibers and bones that hold teeth in place. "If gum disease is left untreated, it may progress to the point where you can lose teeth," says Barbara J. Steinberg, D.D.S., a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.
In a recent report, the American Academy of Periodontology also warns that gum disease poses a more serious threat to total health than previously recognized. It's a known factor in many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illnesses and low birth weight in babies and may be a factor in osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, says the group's president, Robert S. Schoor, D.D.S.
The good news: With proper oral hygiene and regular trips to the dentist, you can usually reverse gum disease and keep it in check. Mild cases, like gingivitis, can usually be treated with simple polishing and removal of plague, while more severe cases may require scaling, root planing and surgery.
To prevent gum disease, brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day, floss daily and visit your dentist or periodontist every three to six months for an exam and cleaning. For more information, visit The American Academy of Periodontology.