The researchers cited cost as one of the main reasons why pregnant women do not visit the dentist, and they found that women without insurance were twice as likely as those with insurance to not visit the dentist during pregnancy. However, healthcare professionals may be able to increase the amount of women who prioritize oral health by simply talking to women about the importance of visiting the dentist.
“The dental professional community should continue to advise and emphasize to expectant mothers the importance of practicing good oral hygiene habits at home before and during pregnancy and the need for regular dental checkups,” stated Miles Hall, DDS, Cigna’s chief clinical dental director, in an email interview with DrBicuspid.com.
Pregnant women aren't told the importance of oral health
It is important for pregnant women to visit the dentist because all infections, including ones in the oral cavity, may impact the health of their baby. In addition, according to the Cigna study, hormonal changes throughout pregnancy can increase the risk for periodontal disease.
“The dental professional community should continue to advise and emphasize to expectant mothers the importance of practicing good oral hygiene habits.”
— Miles Hall, DDS, Cigna’s chief clinical dental director
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women, including pregnant women, should be counseled about the importance of oral health.
To see if pregnant women and new mothers knew about the importance of oral health during pregnancy and if they followed through with visiting a dentist, Cigna conducted a survey through M/A/R/C Research. The online survey went out to pregnant women and also women who had babies within the past 12 months.
All the women included in the survey were between the ages of 21 and 45. A total of 801 women were surveyed:
- 200 pregnant women with dental insurance
- 200 pregnant women without dental insurance
- 201 new mothers with dental insurance
- 200 new mothers without dental insurance.
The survey found that although 76% of pregnant women reported having an oral health problem, including bleeding gums, toothache, and increased tooth sensitivity, only 57% actually visited a dentist during their pregnancy. To help remedy this, the survey authors recommended that healthcare providers, including dentists and hygienists, explain how pregnancy can affect the oral cavity.
Data courtesy of the 2015 Cigna survey "Health Smiles For Mom And Baby."
"Explain the connection between oral health and overall wellness before, during, and after pregnancy," the survey authors wrote. "For pregnant women, any infection, including tooth decay and gum disease, has the added possibility of affecting the baby's health."
The study also found that pregnant women who did not have dental insurance were twice as likely to not visit the dentists as those with dental insurance, and 33% of the women skipped a dental visit during pregnancy because of the cost.
“It is important to acknowledge the frequent reasons for avoiding the dentist and offer insight into overcoming potential barriers -- such as providing details about what services are covered under a preventive visit and upfront communications about treatment costs for restorative services,” Dr. Hall said. “Help patients determine whether their dental plan has a special program with extra covered services for pregnant women, like additional exams or cleanings.”
Start the conversation
Not all the study's findings were dismal, however. The researchers found pregnant women whose healthcare providers talked about the importance of oral health were twice as likely to visit the dentist and also twice as likely to read materials about oral health.
In addition, while many new mothers said that they brush and floss less frequently after giving birth, mostly because they don't have the time, only 43% of new mothers visited the dentist since giving birth. However, 63% of new mothers whose healthcare providers talked to them about oral health during pregnancy have visited the dentist since giving birth.
The takeaway is to "bring oral health into the conversation about overall health during preventive checkups," the survey authors concluded.
“Educating patients regarding the importance of regular dental exams, home care, and the potential impact of oral health on overall health as often as possible will have an incremental positive effect on the patient,” Dr. Hall said. “Acknowledging common reasons for avoiding care and offering encouragement and suggestions is of significant positive value.”
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