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Oral Health's Impact on Fertility & Beyond: Q&A with Dr. Staci Whitman

For many, the mouth might seem separate from fertility and pregnancy, but the trillions of bacteria living there play a surprisingly significant role. Let's explore this hidden world and how to keep it happy for optimal health!

Hi everyone, Dr. Staci here! I am a functional dentist, which means I practice dentistry with a focus on the interconnectedness of oral health and overall wellness. Functional dentists take a holistic approach to dental care, aiming to address the root causes of dental problems rather than just treating the symptoms. 

Today, we're diving into a fascinating area of women's health: the connection between your oral microbiome (aka the health of your mouth)  and your reproductive journey. 

What is the Oral Microbiome?

Think of your mouth as a bustling ecosystem teeming with microscopic life. These bacteria, fungi, and viruses make up your oral microbiome, and just like your gut, it has a big impact on your overall health. A balanced microbiome keeps your mouth healthy, fighting off bad breath, gum disease, and cavities. But an imbalance can lead to inflammation, which can have far-reaching effects.

The Mouth-Body Connection: Fertility, Pregnancy & Postpartum

Here's where things get interesting. Research suggests that a healthy oral microbiome can positively influence fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum health.

  • Fertility: Inflammation in the mouth can trigger a systemic inflammatory response throughout the body. This may affect hormone regulation and ovulation, potentially impacting fertility.

  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy brings hormonal shifts that can affect your oral microbiome. Some studies show an increase in certain bacteria linked to gum disease. Poor oral health during pregnancy has also been linked to a higher risk of preeclampsia and preterm birth.

  • Postpartum: The return to hormonal balance postpartum can further impact the oral microbiome. Additionally, fatigue and changes in eating habits can affect oral hygiene routines. Maintaining good oral health during this time is crucial.

Early Impact: How Early Does Oral Health Matter?

The good news is, you can start taking care of your oral health early on. Optimal oral health can benefit your reproductive health throughout your life. Regular dental checkups and cleanings from a young age are essential. It is recommended to start wiping gums before teeth even erupt to not only desensitize baby, but also we know now that certain types of pathological bacteria can adhere to cheeks, gums and tongues early on. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests that you ideally bring your child in to see a dentist by the time the first tooth erupts or no later than by the age of one to ensure appropriate prevention and education.

Pregnancy & Postpartum: Supporting Your Oral Health

Here's what to expect and how to support your oral health during pregnancy and postpartum:

  • Gum Changes: Hormonal fluctuations can make gums more sensitive and prone to inflammation (gingivitis); the amount of time that this can go on for postpartum can range from weeks to months to as long as one is breastfeeding. Brushing twice daily with a soft-bristled brush and flossing regularly is key.

  • Morning Sickness: The acidity of vomit can erode tooth enamel. Rinse your mouth with water after vomiting and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing.

  • Dietary Changes: Pregnancy cravings can lead to increased sugar intake, which feeds bad bacteria. Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Choosing the Right Products: Friend or Foe for Your Oral Microbiome?

When it comes to oral hygiene products, some are better for your microbiome than others:

  • Toothpaste: Choose fluoride-free toothpaste with natural ingredients like xylitol, which helps fight bad bacteria.

  • Floss: Flossing is important, but avoid heavily perfumed floss that can disrupt the microbiome. Consider natural silk floss.

  • Mouthwash: Most mouthwashes contain harsh chemicals that kill both good and bad bacteria. Opt for a natural mouthwash with ingredients like xylitol or essential oils.

Male Fertility & the Oral Microbiome: Is There a Link?

While research is still emerging, some studies suggest a potential link between a man's oral health and sperm health. Inflammation in the mouth likely negatively impacts sperm quality. Men can prioritize good oral hygiene to support overall health, including fertility.

Tongue Tie and Overall Health for Baby

A tongue tie is a condition where the tissue under the tongue (frenulum) is too short, restricting tongue movement. This can make breastfeeding difficult for babies and potentially impact digestion, as well as gut & overall health. A qualified healthcare professional can assess and treat tongue tie if needed.

Remember, a healthy mouth is a happy mouth, and a happy mouth can contribute to a healthy reproductive journey!

By taking care of your oral microbiome, you're investing in your overall well-being and giving your body the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a smooth postpartum experience. If you have any concerns about your oral health, be sure to consult with a dentist who understands the connection between the mouth and the body.

Stay tuned for future posts where we delve deeper into specific oral health topics!

About Dr. Staci Functional Dentist

Doctor Staci attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and initially worked as a general dentist, eventually going back to school, earning her Board-Certification in Pediatric Dentistry from Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). She is an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Provider (IFMCP) and lecturer and has her dual Board Certification in Integrative Biological Dental Medicine (IBDM) and as a Naturopathic Physician (NMD) from the American College of Integrative Medicine and Dentistry (ACIMD).  She is a Certified International Health and Wellness Coach (CIHC) from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and is currently working on getting her Functional Diagnostics Certification and Masters in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She will begin her Masters in Public Health in the near future. 

Doctor Staci has always been passionate about children's nutrition and how to improve our food system, the oral microbiome and the oral-systemic connection, and sleep and airway health, focusing her research in residency on how to improve airway assessments and diagnostic tools in the pediatric population. 

She dreams of a world without cavities and believes in motivating families to join her as a team, keeping their children healthy and thriving with small, manageable daily changes that will impact their oral health and their ability to optimize systemic wellness.

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Dr. Staci Whitman, IFMCP

Doctor Staci Whitman is on a mission to create a cavity-free world. She founded NoPo Kids Dentistry in North Portland, OR, one of the only pediatric dental practices in the US that takes a whole-body, holistic, and functional approach with patients. Her dentistry and practice philosophy are both grounded in science and powered by love.

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