Today’s post is from Guest Blogger Robert Milton. He blogs for Austin Dental Center, an Austin dentist, who specializes in cosmetic dental procedures and preventative dental care.

You know the basics of good oral hygiene: Brush after every meal, avoid sugary snacks and drinks, floss daily, etc. However, what you may not know is that some of the best dental care you can give your children starts long before their first visit to the dentist, or even before those first baby teeth appear.

Believe it or not, good dental health begins in the womb, and making a few important changes to your lifestyle can go a long way toward protecting you and your unborn baby.

Step up your routine dental care.

If you can, try to see your dentist before you become pregnant, and be sure to attend all of your regular checkups as well. That way, your teeth can be professionally cleaned and examined to identify potential dental problems that may impact your baby. Pregnancy causes changes in estrogen and progesterone levels that increase your risk of developing dental health problems such as tooth sensitivity, plaque formation, cavities and gum disease. Plus, mothers with poor dental health have a much higher risk of delivering preterm babies and passing cavity-causing bacteria to their children, so it is especially critical that you take advantage of preventive care during this time.

Eat a well-balanced, teeth-friendly diet.

Nutrition is another important part of good prenatal dental care. Tooth development begins between the sixth and eighth weeks of pregnancy and continues throughout, while hardening of the baby teeth begins at four months. Set your baby up for success by eating plenty of dairy products and other foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, which help with your child’s teeth, gum and bone development.

Minimize the effects of morning sickness.

If you struggle with morning sickness or frequent vomiting, ask your dentist to recommend a bland-tasting toothpaste that you can use throughout your pregnancy. Also, be sure to rinse your mouth out with water or a mouth rinse in order to neutralize the acid caused by vomiting that leads to tooth erosion. If you can, clean your teeth using a paste made of baking soda and water as well.

Become a regular gum chewer.

Make it a habit to chew gum containing xylitol for at least five minutes after every meal. Xylitol has been proven to slow down the growth of bacteria in the mouth, neutralizing plaque acids to fight cavities and restrengthen tooth enamel.

Visit your dentist at the first sign of dental trouble.

If you notice any negative changes in your teeth and gums, such as pain, bleeding, inflammation or infection, schedule an appointment to see your dentist right away. Dental emergencies can be treated during any trimester, and the longer you wait to get treatment, the higher the risk of complications down the road.

Check medications and vitamins with your doctor.

Discolored teeth can result from certain medications and supplemental vitamins that contain iron. Bring your meds and vitamins with you to your doctor appointment so that you can both review whether or not it’s safe for your unborn child. Also be aware of tetracycline, an antibiotic used to treat conditions like urinary tract infections and acne. This drug is known to cause permanent tooth discoloration and affect your child’s growth later in life.

Research shows that following all of these tips can significantly improve your child’s dental development before and after birth.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.