Pregnancy is a roller coaster ride. You feel elated one moment and terrible the next. You crave a salty snack, and then, in a split second, all you want is a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Bad breath during pregnancy is one of the many strange symptoms an expecting mother faces. And while everyone experiences bad breath every now and again, when it sticks around for too long, it can be considered halitosis. Halitosis can make a person extra conscious while speaking. It can also limit social interactions. Let’s look at the major causes and ways you can tackle bad breath during pregnancy.
Is Bad Breath a Sign of Pregnancy?
Bad breath during pregnancy is a common worry. However, bad breath alone cannot be a sign of pregnancy. In the end, pregnancy is different for every woman. And no woman’s pregnancy journey is the same.
What Causes It?
There are a few explanations for bad breath (or malodor) during pregnancy. These include:
A plethora of hormonal changes occur during pregnancy to support the development of the fetus. When a woman is pregnant, estrogen and progesterone hormones are at their peak level.
The elevated hormones make pregnant women more prone to gingivitis or gum inflammation by intensifying the response of the gums to dental plaque. As plaque is majorly composed of bacteria, its accumulation directly leads to bad breath.
Nausea and vomiting are the early signs of pregnancy for many women. Effectively, bad breath often follows vomiting, as the mouth gets exposed to pungent stomach acids and undigested matter.
During pregnancy, sinus infections are also common. Sinus infections occur when the air-filled spaces in the skull build up with mucus. Eventually, the excess mucus flows down through the back of the nose, leaving behind a track of white film. This film is a hotbed for bacteria to multiply, causing an increase in bad breath.
A study conducted among pregnant and non-pregnant women showed a lack of oral hygiene among pregnant women. This outcome can be associated with hormonal changes and increased snacking due to cravings. Also, some pregnant women may avoid brushing their teeth because of nausea and morning sickness. Additionally, during pregnancy, gums become more sensitive to plaque.
All of this can collectively lead to gingivitis. If not addressed, gingivitis progresses to periodontitis (inflammation of tooth-supporting tissues like gums, periodontal ligament, and surrounding bone). The consequences of periodontitis can be severe and irreversible. The bacteria that cause periodontitis also release VSCs (volatile sulfur compounds). VSCs smell foul and are the ultimate cause of bad breath.
Women can also experience dry mouth while pregnant. As we know, saliva is a lubricant for our mouth. It helps with essential activities like swallowing, chewing, and speech. The flushing action of saliva naturally cleanses the mouth from food debris and bacteria. Also, the enzyme (lysozyme) in saliva kills specific bacteria. In the case of dry mouth, there is reduced salivary flow. In turn, the bacteria multiply, and the food debris decomposes. This process leaves behind a foul smell and a bad taste in the mouth. If dry mouth is left unresolved, it can also lead to tooth decay.
How Can You Minimize It?
During pregnancy, the above causes can lead to bad breath individually or they may collectively contribute to bad breath. Unfortunately, permanent escape from bad breath during pregnancy can be challenging.
However, here are some ways you can minimize it:
Is there anything drinking water cannot fix? It is said over and again to drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated, even if it demands those extra visits to the washroom. The human body is mostly composed of water. And water is constantly lost via sweat and urine. Drinking water frequently throughout the day helps to keep the mouth (and body) moistened and refreshed. Water promotes saliva production, thus providing relief from dry mouth. If your bad breath is due to a sinus infection, water can also help thin out the smelly mucus that causes it in the first place.
Limit caffeine and sugar
It can be hard to say “no” to your beloved energy booster. Yet, whether you like it or not, coffee dries out your mouth. And dry mouth directly leads to bad breath. Sugar can also cause bacteria to thrive.
For pregnant women, limiting caffeine and sugar is advised for several reasons. (In a 2020 study, for example, women who consumed coffee heavily showed a high risk of bleeding during early pregnancy.) Combatting dry mouth and the growth of bacteria is just another way to limit oral bacteria. When the growth of bacteria is in check, bad breath can be reduced significantly.
Practice gentle oral hygiene
Oral care often takes a back seat when a woman is pregnant. Such should not be the case. It is essential to carry out regular oral hygiene practices even more while pregnant. Due to increased snacking and hormonal changes, pregnant women are more prone to tooth decay and gingivitis.
Here are a few tips for improving oral care while pregnant:
- Brush twice a day for a good 2 minutes. Be gentle to avoid vomiting.
- Make it a habit to rinse thoroughly after every snack/meal.
- Floss at least once a day to remove the debris between the teeth.
- Don’t forget to clean your tongue, as that is where all the malodor-producing bacteria reside.
- Try incorporating an alcohol-free mouthwash rinse into your oral care routine. But remember to ask your doctor first.
- If you suffer from morning sickness, do not brush right away. Wait for 20-30 minutes after feeling unwell to avoid damage to the tooth enamel.
When to See Your Doctor
If you struggle with bad breath during pregnancy, put extra effort into maintaining a consistent oral care routine. If you have been practicing good oral hygiene and bad breath persists, seek professional advice. Often, bad breath arises from poor oral hygiene, but other issues can also lead to bad breath as well. See your dentist to guarantee there are no underlying health problems.
Many factors lead to bad breath during pregnancy. However, it’s important to remember that it is only temporary and should go once your bundle of joy arrives. In the meantime, never neglect your oral care and consume a balanced, healthy diet. That being said, don’t be afraid to have your salty snacks or vanilla ice cream every once in a while. Just don’t forget a rinse of mouthwash afterward.