Getting Dental Care during Your Pregnancy

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Most people see their dentist for routine cleanings every 6 to 12 months, which means you’ll probably need to visit your dentist at least once during your pregnancy. Pregnancy itself shouldn’t affect your dental health. You don’t want to avoid the dentist because neglected cavities can become infected, which is all the more reason to see your dentist when you’re pregnant.

Some recent studies have shown that pregnant women who suffer from periodontal disease, which is infection and inflammation of the gums, are at a higher risk for delivering small or premature babies. This finding is one more reason for making good oral hygiene a priority.

Pregnancy causes an increase in blood flow to the gums. In fact, about half of all pregnant women develop a condition called pregnancy gingivitis, which is simply a reddening of the gums caused by this increased blood flow. In this condition, gums have a tendency to bleed easily, so try to be gentle when you brush and floss your teeth.

For those of you who want whiter and brighter teeth, plenty of products are available, including whitening toothpastes and over-the-counter gels, strips, whitening systems, and trays. Although most are frequently used during pregnancy, no large studies document the safety of such treatments. Whitening toothpastes help remove surface stains without using bleach. There is no reason to think they are a problem.

Over-the-counter whitening strips, gels, and whitening systems are peroxide-based and haven’t been specifically studied in pregnancy. However, the safety of peroxide can be implied from other studies. In one such study, pregnant rats were fed up to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide in their diet and no problems were detected in their offspring.

Similarly, when tested as a component in hair dyes, peroxide wasn’t found to cause birth defects. With in-office bleaching, the technician applies the whitening product to the teeth and uses heat and/or a laser to quicken the process. Many dentists don’t perform these procedures on pregnant women because they haven’t been well-studied.

On the bright side, seeing your dentist for cleaning not only promotes good hygiene, but also removes surface stains and leaves you with a brighter smile.

If you need routine dental work — cavities filled, teeth pulled, crowns placed — don’t worry. Local anesthesia and most pain medications are safe to use during pregnancy. Some dentists also recommend antibiotics during dental procedures, most of which are also safe during pregnancy, but you should check with your prenatal care provider to make sure.

Even dental X-rays pose no significant problem for the fetus, as long as a lead “apron” or shield is placed over the abdomen.