Dental health can deliver for expectant
By Jack Williams
San Diego Union-Tribune
July 19, 2004
Body and Soul
We're beginning to see the evidence collect
like bacteria around chronically neglected teeth: What happens
in our mouth reflects and affects what's going on in the rest
of the body.
So when a savvy dental hygienist tells you
she's diagnosed at least three pregnancies during routine
dental checkups, you don't exactly jump out of your chair.
The telltale signs? Red, tender and very swollen
gums. The condition? Pregnancy gingivitis, which some women
of child-bearing age develop before they know they're brushing
and flossing for two (or more).
Combine the inevitable hormonal changes of pregnancy
with less-than-optimal mouth maintenance, and the result could
be premature delivery and an underweight baby. A five-year
University of North Carolina study showed that pregnant women
with moderate to severe periodontal disease a condition
resulting from untreated gingivitis can be seven times
more likely to give birth prematurely.
Sheila Wolf, a registered dental hygienist who
likes to be called "Mama Gums," comes heavily armed
with such warnings. She's seen enough problem mouths in her
32-year career to be able to identify pregnancy gingivitis
at the drop of a jaw.
"With some women, their pregnancy was confirmed
three or four weeks later," she said.
Prevention-minded to the bone, Wolf is famous
among Halloween trick-or-treaters in her San Diego neighborhood
for handing out toothbrushes, dental floss and toothpaste
instead of gooey goodies.
She's taught oral hygiene in a one-room schoolhouse
in the Appalachian Mountains, where as many as six kids share
one toothbrush. She's persuaded leading dental companies to
donate supplies to impoverished children here and abroad,
and she's preached the do's and don'ts of dental hygiene as
a volunteer in rural Israel.
Now, thanks to a Web site (www.mamagums.com)
and a recently published book ("Pregnancy and Oral Health,"
Radcliffe Publishing) she's carrying her gum rap to a wider
"I feel I can reach more people in print
than across the dental chair," she said the other day.
Wolf struck a responsive chord with women after
posting oral health articles on female-oriented Web sites.
"I saw that pregnant women was a niche I could reach
out to," she said. So she wrote a practical, how-to book,
believed to be the first of its kind, on what she calls "the
critical connection between your mouth and your baby."
This is the same Sheila Wolf known to some San
Diegans for her interior decorating and home-restoration skills.
For now, though, her Gilda Designs business is on hold. She's
writing another dental book, one she says she'll name "The
Smile of Your Life." Or maybe "Keep Your Teeth and
Save Your Life in 10 Minutes."
In any case, it will be filled with tips on
how to avoid bacterial infections that destroy attachment
fibers and supporting bone that hold teeth in the mouth.
About 15 percent of adults between 21 and 50
and 30 percent 50 and over have periodontal disease. Worst
case scenario is surgery, which Wolf insists can be avoided
with proper brushing, flossing and/or irrigating (squirting
warm water into spaces between the teeth).
As for pregnancy gingivitis, between 50 percent
and 75 percent of women show symptoms. Once the baby is delivered,
the risk goes down as the hormones return to normal.
But breast-feeding moms and women on birth control
pills still are more prone than the rest of us to develop
"They retain water," Wolf said, "and
that can make gum tissues more puffy and inflamed."
Jack Williams can be reached at (619) 293-1388;
by fax at (619) 293-1896; or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org