Good oral health is more than just a nice smile. Having good oral health improves a person’s ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew and eat. Untreated tooth decay leads to needless pain and suffering; difficulty in speaking, chewing, and swallowing; and missed school days. Evidence also suggests that poor oral hygiene and health increases the risk of other health problems like diabetes, stroke, heart disease and bad pregnancy outcomes. It’s easy to see why having good oral health is critical to maintaining good overall health.
When you think about it, pregnancy is probably among the most important times to be healthy. After all, health during pregnancy affects two lives. Changes during pregnancy can make women more susceptible to dental problems at a time when it’s really important to be healthy.
Physical and nutritional changes that occur during pregnancy often lead to an increased risk of dental and gum problems from increased inflammatory response, loosened ligaments and increased acidity in the mouth. In addition, several studies and national guidelines by professional organizations have found a link between gum infection and poor birth outcomes, such as pre-term deliveries, lower birth weight and high blood pressure, which can lead to serious complications for both mom and the baby.
Unfortunately, in Arizona dental care during pregnancy is low because many pregnant women lack access to dental insurance. Gaps in knowledge about recommended oral health practices, and unfounded concerns over safety of dental procedures during pregnancy, also contribute to low dental care among pregnant women. It’s even worse for low-income women, who disproportionately have poor oral health during pregnancy because of their lack of access to dental care.
The good news is that there’s a fairly simple policy solution that could make a big difference for pregnant women and their unborn babies in Arizona. Providing Medicaid (AHCCCS) coverage for perinatal dental care during pregnancy could help improve the oral health of mothers, lower the risk of complications related to dental infections and delay the onset of cavities in children. Dental coverage during pregnancy also could provide a “teachable moment” to adopt oral health best practices for both the mother and the preborn child – steps that could have a long-lasting protective effect.
Interested in learning more about the merits of this simple and effective public health intervention? You’re in luck, because the UA Center for Population Science and Discovery recently published a new Issue Brief that fleshes out the merits and importance of dental care during pregnancy. Read up, stay informed, and add your voice to the public health chorus.