Expectant moms have a lot to smile about, and a new program at the Family Health Center of Battle Creek gives them one more. A new initiative focusing on maternal and infant oral health kicks off on Monday at the center. The program is being funded with a $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation and the BCBSM Social Mission Department. Registered Dental Hygienist and Director of Dental Services Tera Wilson said every mom-to-be who comes in for prenatal care will also now receive free oral healthcare education and support. Staff at the center hope moms with healthier mouths will have a better shot at having healthy babies. “There is a clear link between mothers’ oral hygiene and things like low birth weight and pre-term labor,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to head off some of those things.” Expectant mothers will be able to see a dental hygienist at the center for an oral health screening, cleaning, and evaluation. Women will receive complimentary toothbrushes and floss and the process will establish an individualized oral healthcare plan, which will include educational components designed for each trimester. “Each time we see them is another opportunity to educate. It’s really all about prevention,” she said. During the first trimester of pregnancy, expectant moms will work with a hygienist to establish a dental baseline. Center staff will check to see if there’s anything causing pain and establish how long it’s been since the last dental visit. If there are any problems, moms will be encouraged to try to get them taken care of early in a minimally invasive way. In the second trimester, the visit will focus on nutrition and smoking cessation, along with follow up on routine care covered during the first trimester. Oral health care for infants and toddlers will be discussed during the third trimester. If moms have existing children, they’ll be offered support from center hygienists as well. Working with pregnant women before they give birth goes a step beyond an existing program that pairs one-year-old center patients with hygienists to make sure they’re starting out with proper oral healthcare. “This is education for moms and for their infants before they’re even born,” Wilson said. She said establishing a dental home early can help kids avoid major dental problems later on. Not taking care of baby teeth can lead to infection, abscessed teeth, and expensive dental work. Wilson stresses the importance of those first tiny incisors and molars. “They’re space holders for the permanent teeth that are coming in,” she said. Establishing dental care early also helps kids interact with dental care providers in a positive way, before they need potentially painful services. If you’re expecting, Wilson offered these tips for keeping newborn gums and teeth healthy:
- Never put baby to bed with a bottle. This elevates the risk for developing cavities as a toddler due to the sugar from milk being on baby’s gums and emerging teeth all night.
- Clean baby’s gums thoroughly with a clean cloth twice a day as you would brush your teeth. Their mouths need to be cleaned even before they get their first tooth.
- Don’t clean baby’s pacifier by popping it in your mouth. Cavities are caused by bacteria, which can be passed from caregiver to infant when you do this.
- Xylitol is a sweetener that can actually stop cavity-causing bacteria. Look for drops made with xylitol as an extra precaution for baby’s oral health.
For more on the Family Health Center of Battle Creek, visit www.fhcbc.org . The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports research and programs to improve the health of Michigan residents. No grant money comes from the premium payments of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members. To learn more about BCBSM Foundation grant programs, visit bcbsm.com/foundation. Photo credit: Simon Laroche