Hoping to correct misconceptions while providing care, the organizers of the Connecticut Mission of Mercy dental clinic are planning a special section for pregnant women at this year’s free clinic in Hartford.

Research suggests that fewer than half of pregnant women seek dental care, despite evidence that mothers’ oral health is strongly connected to their children’s dental health. Some research has also suggested that women who don’t receive dental care during pregnancy are at a slightly higher risk for preterm delivery.

“There’s a big lack of information out there from the standpoint of knowing that it’s important for overall health, health of the offspring,” said Dr. Robert Schreibman, president of the Connecticut Foundation for Dental Outreach, which organizes the free clinics.

Each year, the Connecticut Mission of Mercy hosts a two-day clinic that typically draws more than 2,000 people, many of whom wait overnight to get free dental care.

This year’s clinic will be held April 25 and 26 at the XL Center in Hartford and will include 10 dental chairs for pregnant women. There will also be a separate registration section for pregnant women so they won’t have to wait in line with other patients or arrive before the clinic opens to get a spot.

Schreibman said the special focus on pregnant women is also a way to educate dentists about what care they can provide to pregnant women. Until recently, he said, many dentists were hesitant to treat women while pregnant because of concerns about what they could safely do. “There really isn’t a whole lot of reasons for them not to be treated,” Schreibman said.

The organization also wants to educate the public about the importance of dental care for pregnant women and to encourage obstetricians and family practitioners to refer their pregnant patients for oral health care.

Research suggests that the oral health of mothers is a predictor of the oral health of their children. Children of women with untreated tooth decay are significantly more likely to have tooth decay themselves, compared to children of women without untreated decay.

According to the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center, only about half of pregnant women who report having oral health problems seek care for them.

For information from the Connecticut State Dental Association about dental care during pregnancy, including which treatments are safe, click here. The clinic section for pregnant women is being funded by a grant from the Connecticut Health Foundation.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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