Dental Treatments and Pregnancy

an image of a couple's hands holding the abdomen to signify dental treatments and pregnancy

In this article we will answer two often asked questions or in many cases fears, that women have about visiting a dentist during their pregnancy.

They are:

  • Is dental anaesthesia safe during pregnancy?
  • Are dental X-rays safe during pregnancy?

For reasons that we cover in this article and for other reasons we cover in articles on the topic of pregnancy and oral health on this website, it is important that as soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant, her health care providers should assess the woman’s oral health.

It is especially important to have a dental examination if it has been more than 6 months since their last examination or if they have any oral health problems.

However, some of the reasons why patients avoid going to the dentist is a fear that dental procedures may damage the health of their baby, yet exactly the opposite is often true. We hope this article will provide the reassurance that prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral conditions, including dental X-rays (with shielding of the abdomen and thyroid) and local anaesthesia, are safe during pregnancy.

Many conditions that require immediate treatment, such as extractions, root canals, and restoration (amalgam or composite) of untreated tooth decay or cavities, may be managed at any time during pregnancy but delaying treatment may result in more complex problems.

Dental disease can affect a developing baby

Some research has found a link between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth with low birth weight. Babies who are born prematurely may risk a range of health conditions which can include cerebral palsy, problems with eyesight and hearing.

Estimates suggest that up to 18 out of every 100 premature births may be triggered by periodontal disease, which is a chronic infection of the gums. Appropriate dental treatment for the expectant mother may reduce the risk of premature birth.

Oral Health Conditions during Pregnancy Summary

  • The demands of pregnancy can lead to particular dental problems in some women.
  • You are less likely to have dental problems during pregnancy if you already have good oral hygiene habits.
  • With proper dental hygiene at home and professional help from your dentist, your teeth should stay healthy during pregnancy.

Local Anaesthetics during Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant and need a filling, root canal or tooth extracted, one thing you don’t have to worry about is the safety of numbing medications your dentist may use during the procedure. They are, in fact, safe for both you and your baby.

“A study in the August 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association followed a group of pregnant women who had procedures that used anaesthetics like lidocaine shots and a group that did not. The study showed these treatments were safe during pregnancy, as they cause no difference in the rate of miscarriages, birth defects, prematurity or weight of the baby. “ The study identified no evidence to show that dental treatment with anaesthetics is harmful during pregnancy, said study author Dr. Hagai. “We aimed to determine if there was a significant risk associated with dental treatment with anaesthesia and pregnancy outcomes. We did not find any such risk.”

Are Dental X-Rays Safe during Pregnancy?

Yes. X-rays which are a regular part of dental care are safe during pregnancy. Radiation from dental X-rays is extremely low however, your dentist will cover you with a leaded apron that further minimizes exposure to the abdomen or thyroid to protect you from radiation.

Dental X-rays help the dentist find problems with your teeth, gums and the bones which is important but your dentist is aware that if you are exposed to too much radiation that can be harmful to your health so make sure you inform them if you have had any other treatment that included any form of radiation.

Thus, to be clear, dental X-rays are safe during pregnancy. They use very small amounts of radiation, and your dentist covers you with a special apron and collar to protect you and your baby. If your dentist wants to give you an X-ray, make sure they know that you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Oral Health Assessment and Counselling during Pregnancy

The following extract is taken from a report delivered by the Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women: Reviewed by the Oral Health Care During Pregnancy Advisory Committee. This committee is composed of representatives from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the American Dental Association, and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau and coordinated by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University. The information should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure to be followed.

Pregnancy is a “teachable” moment when women are motivated to adopt healthy behaviour. For women of lower socioeconomic status, pregnancy provides a unique opportunity to obtain dental care because of Medicaid insurance assistance with prenatal medical and dental coverage.

Pregnant Women Should Seek Dental Care – But Many Don’t

However, most women do not seek dental care. According to postpartum survey data from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System in 10 states, 56% of mothers did not have dental care and 60% did not have their teeth cleaned during their most recent pregnancy. Black non-Hispanic women (24%) and Hispanic women (25%) were significantly less likely to have their teeth cleaned during pregnancy than white non-Hispanic women (44%) .

Additionally, most women (59%) did not receive any counselling about oral health during pregnancy. Prenatal counselling about oral health care has been shown to be highly correlated with teeth cleaning during pregnancy.

Dental and obstetric teams can be influential in helping women initiate and maintain oral health care during pregnancy to improve lifelong oral hygiene habits and dietary behaviour for women and their families.

Saliva Can Transmit Bacteria Due to Poor Oral Health

For example, women with poor oral health may harbor high levels of Streptococcus mutans in their saliva. These bacteria can be transmitted to their infants during common parenting behaviour, such as sharing spoons or licking pacifiers. Minimizing the number of cariogenic bacteria in pregnant mothers through good oral health may delay or prevent the onset of colonization of these bacteria in their infants, which results in less early childhood caries.

Although most obstetricians acknowledged a need for oral health care during pregnancy, 80% did not use oral health screening questions in their prenatal visits, and 94% did not routinely refer all patients to a dentist. Most obstetricians and dentists agreed that pregnant women should undergo dental services but many dentists were concerned about the safety of dental procedures and medications during pregnancy. Obstetricians were more comfortable with their patients undergoing dental procedures during pregnancy but were less likely than dentists to recommend dental care to their patients. Improved training in the importance of oral health, recognition of oral health problems, and knowledge of procedure safety during pregnancy may make health care providers more comfortable with assessing oral health and more likely to address it with patients.

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