The Unsweetened Truth:
Pregnancy, Sugar and Oral Health
By Sheila Wolf, RDH
A glazed doughnut or a wedge of apple
pie might be what we choose for a mid-morning munch. Unfortunately,
these snacks contain refined sugar that is not only bad for
your teeth and gums, but also for your pregnancy. Sugar, sometimes
disguised as sucrose, dextrose, or glucose, provides empty
calories, adds weight, and can lead to diabetes, heart disease,
and arthritis. We Americans eat entirely too much sugar
almost 7 tablespoons per person per day. Depending on who's
doing the research, that could be anywhere from 64 to 150
pounds per year. These "empty" spoonfuls contribute no nutrition
or fiber and crowd out nutritious fare from your diet.
In the presence of certain bacteria in the mouth, sugar leads
to the production of toxic bacterial byproducts that are very
acidic. These toxins, if allowed to sit on the enamel of your
teeth, cause caries (cavities). If not removed properly from
along the gum line and in between the teeth, they irritate
the gums and will ultimately erode the supporting bone that
anchors the teeth in the mouth. A mother-to-be is more susceptible
to dental problems due to the excessive hormones circulating
in her system. According to the Surgeon General's report in
2000, "toxins or other products generated by periodontal (around
the teeth) bacteria in the mother may reach the general circulation,
cross the placenta, and harm the fetus." Pregnant women with
severe gum infections are seven times more prone to having
a baby that is premature. Prevention and early diagnosis of
dental decay and gingivitis (swollen, tender gums) are important
for your health as well as your baby's.
So, what can you do about assuring good nutrition and oral
health during pregnancy? Here are three tips from my book,
Pregnancy and Oral Health
that will make a difference right away:
Healthy Snack Alternatives
Here is a list of healthy snack ideas to replace those quick,
convenient, sugary ones that contribute to dental decay:
- Yogurt with fresh fruit
- Unprocessed cheese
- Brown Rice, whole grain bagels, whole wheat
toast, or bran muffins with cream cheese, peanut butter,
or fruit spread
- Homemade frozen popsicles, using one 6oz.
can frozen concentrated juice mixed with a small container
(6-8 oz) of plain yogurt. I used to give these to my son
when he was teething. They were yummy for both of us!
- Baked apples or other baked or stewed fruit
- Fresh fruit (Choose from a range of colors
to ensure variety of nutrients and vitamins)
- Fruit smoothies, homemade, using yogurt and
banana as your base. Add other fruit and flavorings with
ice to make a delicious drink
- Unsweetened whole grain cereals with yogurt
and fresh fruit.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Celery with peanut butter (my personal favorite).
- Raw carrot sticks, cucumber slices, green
pepper wedges -- or any fresh vegetables, for that matter.
Serve with a dip made from ground garbanzo beans (hummus),
yogurt, sour cream, or cottage cheese with herbs.
When you indulge
When you do indulge in a sugary treat, it is better to do it
all in one sitting rather than to sip on a soda or take tiny
bites of sweet things all day long. (One soda has on the average
of 12 teaspoons of sugar). Eating tiny bursts of sweets throughout
your day is more injurious to your oral health since every time
you introduce sugar into your mouth, the bacteria are nourished
for about 20 minutes.
Brushing or swishing
Brush as quickly as possible after eating or drinking anything
with a high content of sugar. If that is not possible, I recommend
taking a swig of water, swishing it around your mouth and
swallowing. By keeping these residues at a very low level,
you reduce the nutrients that many plaque-forming bacteria
depend on for their growth and survival.
Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called Mama Gums, has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs.
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