By Beth Conover, APRN, CGC MotherToBaby Nebraska, UNMC
“There are so many risks to the baby if I go for dental work, right?” “What about x-rays?” “I don’t like going to the dentist anyway, so I’ll probably just wait until my baby is born. That should be fine, right?” Worries, excuses, we’ve heard it all at MotherToBaby when it comes to dental procedures during pregnancy. We often receive questions from women wondering whether dental care is safe. In short, the answer is….yes! What better time to talk about the reasons why it’s ok than during June – typically the month the American Dental Association dubs as “Oral Health Month.”
Routine dental care is low risk, and most emergency procedures can be done as well.
Good oral health improves your overall health, and increases your chances of a good pregnancy outcome. However, when you are scheduling a dental appointment and are pregnant (or trying to get pregnant), let the office know so that they can be prepared to make decisions about which procedures are safe for your baby. In some cases, you or your dentist may want to wait until after delivery for elective (non-necessary) procedures.
Here are some commonly asked questions we get from pregnant women:
- When I brush my teeth, my gums have started to bleed. Is this normal? What should I do?
Bleeding gums is a common problem during pregnancy. Pregnant women have hormonal changes that can increase their chances of getting gum problems such as gingivitis (puffy and tender red gums that bleed easily). Your dentist will want to monitor this so that it does not progress to a more serious gum disease. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gums and jaw bones that support the teeth, and can increase your chances of having a smaller baby, delivering early, and having other pregnancy complications. Dentists recommend that you floss daily, and get your teeth cleaned on a regular basis during pregnancy (consider having it done more frequently, if you are having pregnancy gingivitis).
- It seems like pregnancy is causing me to get more cavities in my teeth…am I right?
Pregnancy can contribute to women having more cavities. This is in part due to changes in diet such as frequent snacks including sugary foods. To prevent cavities, eat a healthy diet and brush your teeth after eating sweets. In addition, if you have morning sickness, the acid from your stomach can affect your tooth enamel and make cavities more likely. Rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash after morning sickness episodes. If your toothpaste is making your morning sickness worse, ask your dentist for the name of a bland-tasting toothpaste.
- What if I need to get a cavity filled or a tooth pulled? Can I have a local anesthetic?
Agents like lidocaine which are injected into your gums are low risk for your baby. In one study done in 2015, researchers compared pregnant women who received lidocaine injections as part of dental treatment with women who did not, and found no significant increase in risk for miscarriage, prematurity, or birth defects. If you need a pain medication, your dentist will take into account where you are in your pregnancy so as to make a choice that is safest for your baby.
- Are dental x-rays safe in pregnancy?
You may choose to have routine X-rays done prior to pregnancy, or to delay them until after you deliver – talk to your dentist about the best options for you. However, if you have a dental emergency and need to have them done, don’t hesitate. Advances in technology have made dental X-rays safer, and they do not involve as much radiation. Your dental office will cover your neck and abdomen with a lead apron, which lessens the exposure to your baby even more.
- What else can I do to ensure dental health?
Schedule a visit to your dentist before you are pregnant. Get teeth cleaned, gums examined, and any dental issues addressed prior to pregnancy.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss once a day. This helps reduce plaque, the sticky film that covers your teeth and can make gums inflamed and increase your risk for periodontal disease.
I hope I’ve given you a few good tips to chew on – Your teeth and baby will thank you. Have a healthy pregnancy!
Beth Conover, APRN, CGC, is a genetic counselor and pediatric nurse practitioner. She established the Nebraska Teratogen Information Service in 1986, also known as MotherToBaby Nebraska. She was also a founding board member of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS). In her clinical practice, Beth sees patients in General Genetics Clinic, Prenatal Clinic, and the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Clinic at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Beth has provided consultation to the FDA and CDC.
MotherToBaby is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the new MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets.