Why Perinatal Oral Health is Important

Shared by Susan Rollason, RDH, CDHC, Public Health Dental Hygienist

Pregnancy is a unique period during a woman’s life and is characterized by complex physiological changes, which may adversely affect oral health. At the same time, oral health is key to overall health and well-being.

Preventive, diagnostic, and restorative dental treatment is safe throughout pregnancy and is effective in improving and maintaining oral health. However, health professionals often do not provide oral health care to pregnant women.

At the same time, pregnant women, including some with obvious signs of oral disease, often do not seek or receive care. In many cases, neither pregnant women nor health professionals understand that oral health care is an important component of a healthy pregnancy.

In addition to providing pregnant women with oral health care, educating them about preventing and treating dental caries is critical, both for women’s own oral health and for the future oral health of their children. Evidence suggests that most infants and young children acquire caries-causing bacteria from their mothers. Providing pregnant women with counseling to promote healthy oral health behaviors may reduce the transmission of such bacteria from mothers to infants and young children, thereby delaying or preventing the onset of caries.

For these reasons, it is essential for health professionals (e.g., dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, nurses, midwives, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) to provide pregnant women with appropriate and timely oral health care, which includes oral health education. This national consensus statement was developed to help health professionals, program administrators and staff, policymakers, advocates, and other stakeholders respond to the need for improvements in the provision of oral health services to women during pregnancy.

Ultimately, the implementation of the guidance within this consensus statement should bring about changes in the health-care-delivery system and improve the overall standard of care.

This consensus statement resulted from the Oral Health Care During Pregnancy Consensus Development Expert Workgroup Meeting convened by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau in collaboration with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Dental Association and coordinated by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center. The meeting was held on October 18, 2011, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. A companion document, Oral Health Care During Pregnancy: A National Consensus Statement—Summary of an Expert Workgroup Meeting, which includes information about the meeting, resources, the meeting agenda, and a participant list is available for all.