When a woman is pregnant, the baby’s health and the ob-gyn always come first. But that often means other appointments are overlooked. In fact, one recent study by Cigna found that 43% of women don’t go for dental checkups while they’re expecting, even though 76% of them admit to problems such as bleeding gums and toothaches.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can worsen oral issues such as gingivitis and more serious gum disease. While 63% of women before pregnancy say their oral health is very good or excellent, that number drops to 55% during pregnancy. Also, 36% of expectant mothers say it has been more than a year since their last dental visit, primarily because of cost even among those with insurance.
“Dental checkups are so important that most dental benefit plans cover preventative care visits every 6 months with no or low out-of-pocket costs. Some dental benefit plans even have special maternity programs with additional services like extra cleanings or discounts on oral health prescriptions,” said Dr. Miles Hall, Cigna’s chief clinical dental director.
Expecting and new mothers who took advantage of dental maternity programs through their benefits plan had better oral health habits than those who did not participate or did not have a program available to them. Cigna’s survey also found that:
- 62% of women brush their teeth at least twice a day. That percentage climbs to 76% for those who are participating or who have participated in a dental benefit plan maternity program.
- 48% of women floss at least once a day. That increases to 81% for women who are participating or who have participated in a dental benefit plan maternity program.
These improvements in dental hygiene habits may be why 74% of women who are participating or who have participated in a dental benefit plan maternity program rate their oral health as very good or excellent compared to 55% of pregnant women overall, Cigna says.
Despite the links between oral health and overall wellness, many medical professionals don’t discuss dental care with their patients. While 97% of women saw their general doctor or obstetrician during pregnancy as frequently as directed, only 44% said oral health was mentioned during those visits.
Compared to other expectant mothers, women whose doctors have talked about oral health during pregnancy are about twice as likely to have had a dental checkup while pregnant (77% versus 41%) and have read materials about the importance of oral health (87% versus 42%).
And while only 43% of new mothers have had a dental checkup since giving birth, that rises to 63% for women whose doctors discussed oral health during maternity visits. Postpartum dental visits also are key since dental hygiene habits may slip once the baby arrives, as 36% of new mothers say they brush and floss less frequently than before the baby was born mainly due to a lack of time.
The baby’s oral health should be minded as well. Half of new mothers clean their baby’s gums daily, but that increases to 65% for mothers whose pediatricians discussed the baby’s oral health. However, 34% of new mothers say their pediatrician has not discussed the care of their child’s teeth and gums with them.
The Cigna survey, “Healthy Smiles for Mom and Baby: Insights into Expecting and New Mothers’ Oral Health Habits,” polled 801 pregnant women and new mothers (within the past 12 months) between the ages of 21 and 45 nationally. Half of those surveyed had dental benefits. Cigna reports a +/-3.5% error rate and a 95% confidence level. Also, Cigna offers information for pregnant women, new mothers, and their families at http://www.cigna.com/dental-resources.