Pregnancy doesn't cause gum disease, but it can lead to gingivitis and later, to gum disease. Gingivitis is common and causes swelling and inflamed gums. It develops when plaque from bacteria forms on the teeth and irritates the delicate gum tissues. Over time, gums begin to pull away from teeth and infections increase, leading to periodontitis. Although gingivitis is a form of gum, or periodontal disease, it is more mild and is reversible. Periodontitis is more serious and is treatable, but it's not reversible. Women can develop advanced gum disease if gingivitis isn't taken care of early and often during pregnancy; it isn't inevitable, but it is a risk.
Pregnancy gingivitis is known to cause the gum issues mentioned earlier -- swelling, soreness and bleeding, among others, but a less proven link is between oral health and the health of the mother and baby. Studies have shown that gingivitis and periodontitis are often present in women who give birth early, in advance of their due dates, or who have low-weight babies -- whether born early or full-term -- but a definite link between premature babies and gum disease hasn't been established [sources: AAP; March of Dimes]. It has been proven, however, that infections from decaying teeth can spread throughout the bloodstream, causing illness in the mother and the unborn baby [source: ADA].
There is enough evidence of a link between oral health and healthy moms and babies that most national organizations devoted to both bodily and oral health and wellness advise developing not just a medical care plan, but also a dental care plan. Depending on the condition of the gums and teeth at the start of a pregnancy, dentists can design a care plan to help moms-to-be keep their mouths healthier and less prone to advanced gingivitis or gum disease.
If your feet swell during pregnancy, you can prop them on a pillow for relief, but what can you do if your gums swell? We'll take a look at some simple ways to avoid and treat pillowy gums, next.