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Swollen Gums During Pregnancy

Q. Since I've been pregnant, my gums have been bleeding and puffy. I haven't changed my dental habits, so why is it happening, and how can I stop it?

A. This is a common pregnancy problem. Fluctuating hormone levels can wreak havoc on your body, and your mouth is no exception. The most likely result: a case of pregnancy gingivitis. "Pregnant women's gums have an increased sensitivity to plaque, which leaves them red, swollen, and prone to bleeding," says Marjorie Jeffcoat, D.M.D., former Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, in Philadelphia.

Researchers aren't sure why only some women suffer from pregnancy gingivitis. But if you're among the more than 50 percent who do, it's important that you keep the condition under control. If you don’t, pregnancy gingivitis can turn into periodontitis, a bacterial disease that can cause gum and bone erosion, which may lead to loose teeth. In the worst case, the infection can spread to the jawbone and result in tooth loss. A severe gum infection can also endanger your baby's health: Studies show that the condition increases the chances that women will deliver their babies prematurely or have a low birthweight infant, Jeffcoat says.

To keep gingivitis from getting worse, brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes each time, and floss daily. Your dentist may also recommend using an antibacterial toothpaste that helps protect your gums. And try to have your teeth professionally cleaned every three to six months to help prevent plaque build-up.

If you have a serious case of gingivitis and stepped-up tooth care isn't providing relief, ask your dentist for additional treatment suggestions, such as prescription mouthwash. Fortunately, the condition usually resolves itself after the baby is born and your hormones return to normal.