Guest post by Dr. Rebecca Filla
Many people don’t realize how important good oral health care is during pregnancy. As a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN), I see the need for it first-hand. I’ve seen many patients come in with infections, tooth decay, and missing teeth. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can result in several changes in the mouth. These changes can increase plaque build-up and heighten the chances of developing tooth decay and infection in the gums. Bacteria from a mother’s mouth can then be transmitted through the blood and amniotic fluid in the womb to her unborn child, which can increase the risk of premature birth or result in low birth weights in babies. And a new mom with untreated tooth decay can spread that decay to her child through saliva, increasing the likelihood that the child will also have poor oral health.
In Virginia, there are approximately 45,000 pregnant women who are eligible for public insurance programs, but they are at risk for oral health problems because Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) only cover emergency dental services, such as an extraction for an abscessed tooth.
Fortunately, last fall, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced A Healthy Virginia, a new plan that will provide comprehensive dental care to low-income pregnant women as a way to improve overall health outcomes for mothers and their newborn children. These benefits will go into effect in March 2015.
Under A Healthy Virginia, essential dental services will now be available to pregnant moms, including preventive services, such as cleanings, fluoride treatments, and sealants that help keep cavity-causing bacteria in check and minimize the need for more serious, often higher-cost procedures.
Oral health advocates have played an important role in helping expand this care for pregnant women and families. In the build-up to the Governor’s report, the Virginia Oral Health Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 individuals and organizations from the Commonwealth, including the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, helped educate lawmakers about the health and economic benefits of providing dental benefits for pregnant women on Medicaid and FAMIS.
Here in our region, the Northern Virginia Oral Health Services Coalition, a group of individuals and safety-net service providers from across the region, is working with local primary care groups to find ways of better integrating and delivering medical and oral health services to low-income pregnant mothers and others in Northern Virginia who need care.
But as OB/GYNs, we need to do our part.
We need to start the conversation in the examination room about the connection between oral health and overall health. We can use that time to educate pregnant women about the new benefits under the Governor’s plan and encourage them to seek dental treatment before, during, and after their pregnancy.
As health professionals, we can play a meaningful role in making sure that all Virginians, especially our most vulnerable, have the best chance to live healthy lives. For more information about perinatal oral health, for providers and patients, as well as details about the dental benefits available to pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid and FAMIS MOMS, visit http://novahealthfdn.org/dental-benefits-pregnant-women/.
Rebecca Filla, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and currently holds privileges at INOVA Fairfax Hospital and Reston Hospital Center. She is a board member of the Virginia Oral Health Coalition.