Pregnancy and Oral Health: Postpartum Care

Changes may be coming to help pregnant women in North Carolina access the care they deserve.

Have you heard of Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW)? For those in North Carolina with incomes up to 196 percent of the federal poverty level, people can access Medicaid services for the duration of a pregnancy through the MPW program, and they retain access to medical services for 60 days postpartum (after birth).

While the MPW program offers important services at a time when people need reliable access to care, the range of benefits and time constraints are simply not enough.

For example, oral health services unfortunately don’t extend into the postpartum period at all.

Pregnancy is a busy time for anyone. It is especially busy when you have limited access to resources—financial and otherwise. Between preparing a home for a new baby, attending pregnancy classes, going to regular checkups, and more, things like dental care can easily go by the wayside.

Just as it is during the rest of a person’s life, but especially during pregnancy, oral health care is not a luxury. It is absolutely essential.

Hormone imbalances that result from pregnancy make expecting mothers especially susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease, as does vomiting from morning sickness—stomach acid is not friendly to your mouth.

And the negative impacts of poor oral health stem beyond the parent-to-be. For example, research into the oral-systemic connection has found that gum disease is related to low birthweight in newborns.

Fortunately, there is hope for an expansion of services, allowing women to retain all MPW benefits for a full 12 months postpartum. While an extension of benefits even longer than one year would certainly be even better for new mothers—the first year after birth isn’t a particularly relaxing period of time—a 12-month expansion would mark a big step in the right direction.

Earlier in 2021, Senators Jim Burgin, Joyce Krawiec, and Kevin Corbin filed Senate Bill 530, extending MPW benefits 12 months postpartum. While that bill has stalled in committee, its contents appear to be up for negotiation in the 2021 budget.

An early version of the 2021 budget included the full 12-month postpartum MPW expansion. The most recent update cut that section of the bill, but that does not mean all hope is lost.

There are legislators in the majority party who appear to have taken on this issue, and as negotiations continue, NCOHC will keep a close eye on MPW expansion in the state budget.

Stay up-to-date by joining us as a North Carolinian for Change, and take a moment to learn more about the policy options on the horizon. One of NCOHC’s fantastic interns during the 2021 summer, Hannah Archer, wrote this policy brief outlining MPW expansion and policy implications.

NCOHC is a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation. To get involved, find out more information, and to stay up to date, head over to NC4Change to sign up for our newsletter and see what events and other opportunities are on the horizon.