Should You Go To The Dentist When You're Pregnant?

pregnant woman at the dentist

During pregnancy, teeth cleaning appointments and other routine dental visits may be the last things on your mind. But trips to the dental office should be a part of your prenatal care. A healthy smile can even increase your likelihood of having a healthier pregnancy. If you need emergency care, dental fillings, or even a deep cleaning when pregnant, you should know that it’s completely safe to go ahead and schedule your next appointment. Avoiding it could put you (and your baby) at unnecessary health risks.

Going to the dentist regularly can help you enjoy a healthier, more predictable pregnancy. Preventative dental care visits like cleanings and gum disease therapy both improve fertility rates and reduce the risks of things like preeclampsia, pre-term labor, and premature births. But is it safe to see a dentist during pregnancy? Teeth cleaning or a deep cleaning when pregnant should be considered an essential part of prenatal care and overall wellness. But timing your dental visits during certain stages of your pregnancy may be more helpful.  

How Does Pregnancy Affect My Oral Health?

Adjusting hormone levels can cause some expectant women to experience an increase in swollen, bleeding gums.[1] The symptoms mimic traditional gingivitis, but they don’t always respond to oral hygiene habits like a bacterial-induced infection. That’s why it’s called “pregnancy gingivitis.

If we take things a step further, there’s another type of gum inflammation that affects some pregnant women. These swollen areas tend to occur on localized edges of the gums, creating temporary “pregnancy tumors.” Although the name is unfortunate, these localized swellings tend to self-correct after you give birth. Depending on how irritating they are, it might be necessary to have them removed.

Some women see changes in their dental health during pregnancy, due to lifestyle changes, dietary habits, and acid erosion. If you’ve had a history of extensive dental work or tooth decay, all of these factors can play off one another to put you at a higher chance of oral health problems.

But pregnancy itself isn’t necessarily a risk factor for dental problems. Rather, it tends to be the other way around: untreated dental problems can directly impact health during pregnancy. Both for you and your child.

When Is It Safe To Visit The Dentist  

Depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re in and what type of dental care you need, you may want to adjust your dental appointments to fit what trimester you’re in.  

First Trimester

Let your dentist know if you’re pregnant or think you could be pregnant. It’s completely safe to go ahead and schedule appointments like cleanings and exams. Since hormonal changes and morning sickness can contribute to certain dental problems, early care is a great way to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible. And the healthier your mouth is, the better it is for your child.

Second Trimester

You’re past the delicate stage of your child’s development. Routine dental care is usually most comfortable during this time, because you’re probably past the morning sickness and can still lay back comfortably. Most medical experts suggest that the second trimester is the best and safest time to get dental work completed during pregnancy.[2] Teeth cleaning visits included!

Third Trimester

By the time you’ve reached your third trimester, it can be extremely difficult to lay back in a dental chair for much time at all. Although dental care is safe, your dentist will likely only suggest scheduling medically necessary procedures such as emergency treatment, extractions, root canal therapy, and the like.[3]

Cleanings & Deep Cleanings 

As part of pregnancy, teeth cleaning visits and other preventative care appointments help keep you and baby healthy. Plan to see your dentist and dental hygienist every six months. That way your dental team can intercept possible concerns before they evolve into serious infections or an emergency. Skipping your regular cleanings could contribute to the development of periodontitis (gum disease.) Think of them as part of your comprehensive prenatal wellness plan! Cleanings are a non-invasive way to physically lower the number of disease and inflammation-causing bacteria inside your body.

Active gum disease can raise your risk of a preterm birth.[4] The bleeding, swollen gums allow oral bacteria to spread directly through your bloodstream to your unborn child. The periodontal infection also increases your likelihood of developing preeclampsia. A therapeutic deep cleaning when pregnant will help to halt the infection and avoid the spread of bacteria. It’s much safer to go ahead and have your gum disease treated right away than it is to wait until after your baby is born.

Dental X-Rays When Pregnant

Can you get dental X-rays during pregnancy? Teeth cleaning visits and checkups often rely on X-rays to screen for decay, bone loss, tartar buildup, and periodontal disease. But with the potential radiation exposure to your developing baby, is it safe to have x-rays taken when you could be (or are) pregnant?  

Thankfully, today’s digital radiography equipment involves extremely low levels of radiation exposure. So low, in fact, that they don’t pose any potential danger to you or your child. On top of that, your dentist will have a lead apron that completely covers your abdomen and reproductive organs to shield out any potential scatter radiation.[5]

More than likely, your dentist will probably delay any routine X-rays until you’ve had the baby. But if you’re in pain, there’s a suspected infection, or you need some type of dental treatment, your dentist will need them for a proper diagnosis and care plan.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re asking yourself “Why is the assistant or my hygienist stepping out of the room every time she takes my X-ray since X-rays are supposedly so safe?”, it’s because they take them day after day. The “cumulative” exposure is best avoided, even though radiation levels are extremely low.

Tooth Removal

Tooth extractions are usually the result of an emergency, aggressive decay, or advanced periodontal disease. If instead of a deep cleaning when pregnant your dentist recommends an extraction, it’s likely medically necessary. Otherwise, certain steps would be taken to try to preserve your tooth.

Extractions are usually recommended if root canal therapy or other restorative options are not appropriate. Both options are completely safe to schedule during treatment, as delaying care would otherwise pose a risk to your baby. If there’s a chance of you developing severe facial swelling, spread of infection, or you’re in so much pain that you need to visit the emergency room, then it could be best to have the tooth extracted ASAP.

Before planning an extraction, be sure to review your entire health history with the dental team. Pregnancy is just one of the factors that go into play. Medications, previous surgeries, and underlying medical factors all dictate whether it’s safe to proceed with dental care.

Dental Fillings

Tooth decay is an active bacterial infection. All cavities should be treated as soon as they’re diagnosed to prevent the decay from spreading deep into the tooth, the nerve, or adjacent teeth. Fortunately, it’s completely safe — and recommended — to get your cavities treated during pregnancy.[6] You can think of getting a dental filling during pregnancy as the equivalent to dressing an infected wound on your arm; you don’t want to delay it, pregnant or not.

Some women may be tempted to delay their filling appointment until after they give birth. But it only takes a matter of months for decay to spread. In the end you’re left with more complex treatment needs, which negatively impacts both your tooth structure and your wallet (even if you have dental insurance.)

Get your cavity treated as soon as possible, even if you’re pregnant. The only exception might be if you’re expecting any day

Although your filling appointment will be almost identical to someone who isn’t pregnant, you’ll need to be sure to let your dentist know you’re expecting. The reason is that it will help them adjust any medications that they need to use. Some local anesthetics contain epinephrine, which can raise your heart rate. In small amounts it’s just fine, but if you’re someone who tends to be “hard to get numb”, your dentist may want to opt for an epinephrine-free anesthetic instead.

Home Care Matters

To avoid fillings or a deep cleaning when pregnant, it’s important to practice great daily home care. Even if you’re planning on regular teeth cleanings during pregnancy, a thorough hygiene routine is essential.

1) Rinsing Is Your Friend

And we don’t just mean with mouthwash. During pregnancy, the uptick in vomiting and heartburn can add to the acid erosion on your teeth. Instead of brushing immediately after a bout of nausea (which can spread the acids around even further) use tap water to vigorously rinse out your mouth.

2) Brush 2x Daily 

Brush at least twice a day for two minutes, focusing on the gumlines. Your gum health ties back to overall wellness. To prevent inflammation and bleeding along your gums, gently brush them to remove plaque residue lurking along the edges. A soft or extra-soft bristled toothbrush is best. If you can, an electric toothbrush is even better. But if it sets off your gag reflex, just do what you can.

3) Floss Daily

Using either traditional strand floss or a water flosser, clean between your teeth at least once a day. Since periodontal diseases (which increase your risk of pregnancy complications) tend to start down between the teeth, it’s crucial you don’t skip this step.  

4) Add Fluoride Into Your Daily Routine

An over-the-counter fluoride rinse works fine. For best results, use it before you go to bed and don’t eat or drink anything afterward. The fluoride will help to reinforce the integrity of your enamel, so that it’s resistant to everyday acid exposure.

5) Drink As Much Water As You Can

Depending on what your pregnancy cravings are like, you may be nibbling on a lot of different foods throughout the day. Water is a natural cleanser that helps rinse away food debris and acids. And unlike most bottled waters, tap water is regulated for its fluoride levels. Sip on it frequently to keep your mouth lubricated and body hydrated.

Recap Visiting The Dentist When Pregnant 

If you need dental care during your pregnancy (teeth cleaning, fillings, or even emergency care) it’s completely safe. In fact, some types of therapies such as a deep cleaning when pregnant are even essential. Avoiding treatment for tooth decay or periodontal disease can pose a serious risk to both the health of you and your developing baby.

Fortunately, with regular preventative care and a good oral hygiene routine, you can have a healthy smile — and pregnancy — until baby arrives! So, if you’re newly pregnant or still trying to get there, be sure to plan regular dental checkups and cleanings on a six-month schedule. And if issues like tooth decay or gum disease develop, be sure to have them looked after ASAP…regardless of what trimester you’re in.