Pregnancy. If you can tell me a time in a woman's life when she receives more unwanted advice than while she's pregnant, I'll eat my shoes. All of them. Most people mean well, but unfortunately there is a lot of bunk and old wives' tales doing the rounds. Let's start sorting the truth from the fiction.
"The baby took all the calcium out of my teeth, that's why they are so bad."
In my last article about decay, I wrote about how calcium is lost from teeth, and how it can be regained through saliva. The calcium in your teeth is not in the same dynamic relationship with your blood circulation. Pregnancy does not cause calcium to be sucked out of your teeth from the inside and deposited into the baby's bones and teeth. I've come up with a few theories as to where this tale has come from, but I can assure you that it is not true.
Pregnancy is often a time when a woman takes stock of her health. An inwardly focused mind may suddenly notice health issues that have been ongoing for a long time, but have been ignored. If there is already decay present in the mouth it may be that the woman happens to notice during pregnancy as she marvels at what her body is capable of.
Morning sickness (or perhaps a more accurate name would be "24/7 sickness"), can cause a lot of vomiting. Repeated exposure to stomach acid will dissolve calcium from the teeth resulting in sensitivity and sometimes severe loss of enamel. If decay is already present, repeated acid exposure will accelerate the process.
Pregnancy nausea can also cause an overly sensitive gag reflex. I struggled to brush my teeth without gagging during both of my pregnancies. The smell of toothpaste was enough to set me off retching. I even had my husband brush my teeth for me once so I could just concentrate on regulating my breathing and not being sick (turning up to work as a dentist with unbrushed teeth is not a good look!). When I went to brush immediately after giving birth, I was astounded to find an instant improvement. If nausea is persistent and stops you from brushing thoroughly, the risk of decay happening increases.
Another aspect to pregnancy nausea is the never-ending search for relief. Eating small amounts often is a much advocated solution, which is fine for a short period of time. Again I refer you back to my article on decay , and the need to give your mouth a "rest" in between eating sessions to allow for the saliva to remineralise the teeth. Eating continuously throughout the day increases the risk of decay as the teeth don't get a chance to recover. There are also commercially available lollipops designed to ease the sickness. They do contain sugar, so if consumed regularly have the same effect on your teeth as any other lolly. If you happen to be unlucky enough to also get cravings for sweet snacks you're increasing your risk again.
Heartburn, indigestion, reflux: no matter what you call it, it's a frustrating side effect of pregnancy. As the baby takes over all the available real estate there is less room for food. Many women will experience reflux, which is stomach acid travelling up the oesophagus ("food pipe"). It can cause a burning sensation, chest pain, bad breath and/or a bad taste in the mouth. Stomach acid that reaches the mouth because of reflux will have the same effect on teeth as vomiting.
That's just a few of my own theories as to where this myth came from. Having your teeth "go bad" during pregnancy is not an inevitability. Watching your diet and oral hygiene is a great start. If you feel like there are factors out of your control, like morning sickness, talk to your dentist about extra things you can do to reduce your risk of decay and tooth damage. Then you can confidently smile, (or at least grimace), your way through the rest of your pregnancy!