Pregnancy brings with it a myriad of symptoms that can affect you from your nose down to your toes. As I entered my third trimester, I was shocked to find myself face to face with a common pregnancy ailment: pregnancy gingivitis.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, "Swollen gums, which may be sore and more susceptible to bleeding, are common during pregnancy."
What Causes Tender, Swollen, or Bleeding Gums During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy hormones can take the brunt of the blame for this unfortunate pregnancy symptom. Increased levels of progesterone can cause problems anytime between the second to the 8th month of pregnancy. The same hormones that are causing havoc on the rest of your body can also leave your mouth more vulnerable to bacteria and plaque, which can contribute even further to tender gums.
With the knowledge in hand that my swollen and tender gums were a normal part of the pregnancy experience, I continued my normal routine of twice a day brushing and flossing as much as my tender gums would allow. Unfortunately, I became a statistic and regressed to full-blown Pregnancy Gingivitis.
"Reports show that the most common oral disease is gingivitis, which has been reported in 30 - 100% of pregnancies." - Homa Amini, DDS, Academy of General Dentistry
Signs of Pregnancy Gingivitis
Signs of Pregnancy Gingivitis can range from redder- looking gums that bleed a little when brushing teeth, to severe swelling and bleeding of gum tissue.
It was this severe swelling and bleeding that told me that I had progressed from "tender gums" due to pregnancy hormones to actual gingivitis that needed attention. I immediately called my dentist to get in for a professional cleaning, but that appointment wouldn't happen for a couple of weeks. My gums were huge, bleeding, and painful. I needed immediate relief from the pain and swelling, and I wanted a natural solution while I waited to get into that dental hygienist's chair. Here's what I tried:
Natural Remedies for Pregnancy Gingivitis
1. Salt Water Rinse
Salt Water Rinses have been used as a part of oral hygiene as far back as 2700 B.C. in China. A 2010 study on 45 participants concluded that a salt water rinse is still an effective way to kill bacteria in your mouth. Salt water rinses are not only a natural disinfectant, but they also help remove tissue swelling.
I used a combination of warm water and Himalayan crystal salt (fine ground) as a mouth rinse about 6 times a day. I found that it immediately soothed my swollen and painful gums, particularly after eating. It only took about 24 hours for me to notice a significant decrease in swelling, and I continued this routine for a week.
Probiotics are "good" bacteria that compete for resources in your gut with "bad" bacteria. They can increase gut and immune health, and a 2011 study suggests that probiotics may "halt, retard, or even significantly delay the pathogenesis of periodontal diseases." This study looked at Lactobacillus reuteri, in particular.
I made sure to take my multi-strain probiotic every day. In addition, I broke an extra capsule open, stirred it into a small glass of water, and swished it around in my mouth before swallowing, as well. I wanted to get the good bacteria in there to help fight off the "bad" guys.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant nutrient needed for many roles in your body, but it is particularly useful for healthy gums. Vitamin C is used for the growth and repair of all tissues in the body, and bleeding gums is a sign of vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C is water -soluble, and is not stored in the body. I added additional Vitamin C to my routine for a week, in addition to my prenatal vitamin. 85 mg daily is considered safe levels of vitamin C for pregnant women.
4. Vitamin D
According to the Vitamin D Council, "Pregnant women with PD (periodontal disease) had lower vitamin D levels and were twice as likely to have a vitamin D deficiency." They recommend between 1000 - 5000 IU of vitamin D3 to protect against periodontal disease. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium (for healthy bones and healthy teeth), and plays an important role in immune health.
A 2010 study suggested that women who take higher doses of vitamin D during pregnancy have a reduced risk of complications such as preterm birth, infection, and gestational diabetes. The recommended daily amount for vitamin D, based on the study, was 4000 IU a day. I added some additional vitamin D3 to my routine, which I am still taking today. Since vitamin D is fat soluble and is stored in the body, I paid close attention to the amount of vitamin D that was in my daily prenatal vitamin, before I started additional vitamin D3 supplementation.
5. A New Toothbrush
If gingivitis is from bacteria around my gum-lines, the last thing I wanted to do was use the toothbrush I had been using and continue to spread that bacteria around in my mouth (yuck). It was a great time to take the Woo Bamboo Toothbrush for a little "test drive". I choose the Woo Bamboo because bamboo is naturally anti-microbial, and I knew that bacteria would have a harder time "sticking" to this toothbrush. Plus it is super lightweight, allowing for me to get my teeth good and clean without adding too much pressure. Lastly, the Woo Bamboo comes in a Super Soft bristle, and my poor gums needed some extra gentleness. (Woo Bamboo brushes are also biodegradable, so I can toss it in with the compost when I am ready for my next one.)
6. Essential Oxygen Organic Brushing Rinse
After brushing my teeth each evening, I gave my mouth one final rinse with Essential Oxygen Organic Brushing Rinse. This fluoride free mouthwash is made from 3% food-grade hydrogen peroxide, purified water, organic aloe vera, and essential oils with antibacterial activity. Compare that to a grocery store mouthwash made from alcohol and artificial coloring! Commercial mouth washes can actually dry your mouth out, and a dry mouth can contribute to bacterial growth. More bacteria means more pregnancy gingivitis.
Did It Work?
By the time I got to my professional dental cleaning, I had a hard time convincing my hygienist just how bad my gums had looked two weeks prior. I am sure she thought I was over-inflating the scale of the swollen, painful gums I had. "Well, it looks like you got everything about 90% under control," she told me. That professional cleaning was the end of my journey into pregnancy gingivitis.
Which of my home remedies do I think worked best? Honestly, I think the combination of all of my efforts paid off big time to get my gums under control, but the one remedy that I would recommend to anyone is the Salt Water Rinse for immediate relief. Pregnant or not, if you are having any kind of gum or mouth sores, swelling, or pain, I would recommend rinsing with warm salt water.
Taking care of your oral health is very important while pregnant. It can be hard to focus on keeping your teeth clean and flossed when so much of your attention is being put towards just keeping your breakfast down. Be sure to schedule regular appointments for professional cleaning, brush and floss twice a day, and be sure to contact your dentist if anything seems awry with your teeth or gums.
* This was my personal experience, and the steps I took to combat pregnancy gingivitis were based on research I did and my knowledge of vitamins and supplements. I am not a doctor, or a dentist, and if you are going to add, or change, the supplements you are taking while pregnant, be sure to talk to your doctor first. It's not safe to gamble with your, or your baby's, health. Your doctor can advise you of safe levels of vitamins and supplements to take, and can test you for deficiencies.
Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods