April 5, 2023

The intersection of fertility and oral care

Three healthcare pros walk into a room…our in-house RDH, Senior Office Specialist, and BURST Ambassador Brooke Sergent and two VERY special guests: Board-certified OB/GYNs Katherine and Fran! These three powerhouse professionals sat down for an open and frank conversation about the intersection of oral health, fertility, infertility, and more. Read time: 6 minutes

Brooke: In my career I find that many people fail to comply thoroughly with their oral hygiene routine, whether it’s with flossing or brushing nightly. What would you say personally is your biggest challenge in your own oral hygiene regimen?

Katherine: If I’m being honest, both. Flossing more than brushing, but I think it’s because I didn’t build that habit in childhood. Brushing was much more routine until working in health care, when I started having 24 hour shifts and would be in full work mode and completely losing track of time/routine. I’m always good for the first 1-2 weeks after a visit to the dentist though!

Fran: During my own pregnancies, I really struggle with nightly brushing as that is when my nausea is the worst! Otherwise, I could definitely be better with flossing.

Brooke: Research indicates that chronic periodontitis is positively associated with increased time to conception in some women. As someone who has gone through 5+ years of fertility treatment, I know that this isn’t the only factor in infertility. However, when you are working with patients who struggle with conception, do you inquire about their oral health/last time they saw their dentist?

Fran: I used to not! It wasn’t until the last year or so that I’ve started to dig a bit deeper when I’m discussing fertility issues with my patients.

Brooke: In my career, one of the biggest challenges I face is getting my patients to understand that their oral health affects their overall health. In thinking about your patients who struggle with this same concept, how do you as a health care provider break down that barrier to help educate your patients?

Katherine: I use the exact reason they came to see me as a motivating factor to improve overall health. For a patient trying to conceive, the best way to prepare for pregnancy is optimize your health. Same for the patients looking to prevent a recurrence of whatever symptom they’re experiencing now. There’s no magic pill, or foolproof diet; there’s no secret in fact to overall health: eat well, sleep well, stay active, reduce stress, and take care of yourself. It’s not easy, but it’s the only thing in your control.

Fran: A big part of my job is educating my patients and help them understand why I make the recommendations I do. I try to spend as much time with them, and see them over several visits, so we have time to discuss the information they have learned about outside of my office, so we can be a collaborative team in their health.

Brooke: Studies confirm the bacteria associated with periodontitis/poor oral health will travel through the bloodstream and can affect not only conception, but also affect a developing fetus during pregnancy, as well as damage the reproductive system. Are you aware of any new studies that are being conducted to help confirm and validate these claims? Are there any interesting facts that you would like to share?

Katherine: I can’t say I have anything to validate or add to those claims, but I do support the message to take care of your oral health. Even in pregnancy, I encourage patients to keep their regular dental appointments; and rarely is there something that can’t be done while pregnant. The best medicine is preventative medicine!

Even in pregnancy, I encourage patients to keep their regular dental appointments; and rarely is there something that can’t be done while pregnant.

Brooke: While your job encompasses mostly females, it is obvious that the male has a contributing factor to conception. With research stating that periodontal disease has a positive association with reduced sperm quality, do you ever broach the subject with the male companions in the relationship regarding this issue and if so can you elaborate on how receptive they are to your advice/inquiries?

Katherine: Fertility is a still a rapidly evolving field of medicine. There is very little predictability or even control in the process, and it requires a lot of patience. Health care providers will meet you where you are and guide you the best we can, so just ask your questions! We can’t promise anything (such as “checking your fertility,” especially if you haven’t actively tried to get pregnant), but we sure will do what we can to help you during your journey to parenthood. If you’re at all at the point where fertility treatments are being considered, get a referral to a Reproductive Endocrinology Infertility (REI) specialist ASAP! Or look for one in your community, a good resource is www.SART.org.

Fran: Talk to your ObGyn early and often about your concerns, especially if you have irregular periods, or are on a tighter timeline. Discuss ways to optimize your health by stopping smoking, eating a well balanced diet, and moving your body in ways that make you feel good. It’s never too early to discuss these things with your doctor!

Brooke: Despite the hardships of my infertility it is a story I love to share. Do you have any personal experiences or stories that you would like to share to help enlighten those who may be experiencing or plan to experience the journey to motherhood? 

Katherine: Without any specific context, it’s hard to share one story, especially if it’s not my story to share. However, I will offer this: The journey to parenthood doesn’t just mean carrying a pregnancy and giving birth. The journey to parenthood will look different for every person and family. Just as you are unique, and the child(ren) you raise are unique; your experience will be unique to you. Certainly utilize your village, support groups, even social media to educate yourself about the journey and what you may expect or encounter, but at the end of the day trust yourself and your body/instincts; and always feel empowered to lean on your health care team!

Fran: As someone who was diagnosed with PCOS in her 20s, I was always very concerned about my own path to motherhood. I’m very thankful to all the physicians who listened to me, and helped me get to where I am today in regards to becoming a mom. I’m thankful I get to provide the same for my patients.