State Releases Oral Health Practice Guidelines for Pregnancy and Early Childhood

By Hugh Silk, M.D.
Professor of Family Medicine and
Community Health, University of
Massachusetts Medical School

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has released its Massachusetts Oral Health Practice Guidelines for Pregnancy and Early Childhood. The guidelines provide oral health care recommendations and resources for health care professionals caring for pregnant women and young children. The guidelines are available at www.mass.gov/dph/oralhealthguidelines.

They answer questions about screening, prevention, referrals, and the safety of dental interventions and treatment for patients. They also provide resources to help physician offices address oral health more effectively.

Dental caries is the number one chronic disease for children, affecting more than 40 percent of youngsters; unfortunately, more than half of the cases go untreated. Good oral health for young children begins with good oral health for the mother during pregnancy.

Hormonal and other physiological changes during pregnancy put women at risk for oral conditions such as enamel erosion, dental caries, periodontitis, gingivitis, loose teeth, and pregnancy oral tumors. If a child is born to a mother with active caries, the decay-causing bacteria can be passed to the baby, once teeth begin to erupt. Proper oral health care during pregnancy can reduce these bacteria.

While the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology emphasizes that dental treatment is safe and desirable during pregnancy, only 50 percent of pregnant women receive a dental cleaning, according to the Massachusetts Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. Often women are misinformed about the safety of dental care during pregnancy; for example, they may believe that x-rays are dangerous for the fetus.

Oral health is an important part of overall health, and health care providers can play a critical role in educating patients and collaborating with other professions to improve oral health care.

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