Good Oral Health is More than a Smile - Especially for Pregnant Women

Good oral health is more than just a nice smile.  Having good oral health helps people 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.   There’s also good evidence 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- having good health during pregnancy is probably among the most important times to be healthy.  After all, health during pregnancy affects 2 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 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 poorbirth outcomes like pre-term deliveries, lower birth weight, and high blood pressure that can lead to serious complications for both mom and the baby.

But here in Arizona, dental care usage during pregnancy is low because many pregnant women don’t have 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 pretty simple policy solution that could make a big difference for pregnant women and their unborn babies in Arizona.  Governor Ducey's budget proposal last week proposes restoring emergency dental services for AZ Medicaid members would provide a real boost for AZ oral health- improving outcomes and reducing costs.

Taking this initiative one small step further, by Providing Medicaid preventative oral health coverage during pregnancy, would 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 could also provide a teachable moment to adopt oral health best practices for both the mother and the preborn child that can have a long-lasting protective effect.   Interested in learning more about this simple & effective public health intervention? Check out this new UA  Issue Brief for the details.

Interested in learning more about how you can add your voice to our growing public health advocacy chorus? Join the AZPHA public health advocacy community at www.azpha.org !

Will Humble will be joining the AzPHA staff as the new Executive Director on April 1, 2017.

Will Humble will be joining the AzPHA staff as the new Executive Director on April 1, 2017.