Is Brushing Your Teeth Triggering Morning Sickness?

woman brushing teeth looking in the mirror

If you’re newly pregnant, congratulations! As an expectant mother, you know how important it is to take care of your body — including your mouth — for a healthy, successful pregnancy. But chances are that during your first trimester you’ll experience waves of nausea and vomiting: aka, “morning sickness.” And depending on your situation, you may even have a more sensitive gag reflex than you usually do. If that’s the case, you may find that you get morning sickness only when brushing your teeth. Putting your toothbrush far enough back to clean your molars could be just the thing to set your gag reflex on edge, making you feel nauseated afterward.

Pregnancy — along with a hypersensitive gag reflex — can trigger morning sickness only when brushing teeth or flossing. How can you keep your mouth healthy without setting off waves of nausea and vomiting? By being extremely careful! Experiment with different brushing techniques or eliminating certain flavors of toothpaste (or even brushing with tap water alone) to minimize your morning sickness symptoms. Temporary changes in your oral hygiene routine may be a necessity. Just remember: a clean, healthy mouth is crucial to the mother and baby’s wellness.

Nausea With Brushing Causes 

Morning sickness, unfortunately, is a natural part of pregnancy. It’s thought to be caused by surging hormones and changes in blood sugar levels. But some researchers are now discovering certain genes that make specific women more likely to experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Rare conditions like hyperemesis gravidarum (an extremely severe form of morning sickness) are now believed to be hereditary.[1]

Certain smells or foods can trigger waves of nausea seemingly out of the blue. Some women truly only experience symptoms in the early hours of the day (hence the phrase “morning sickness”) while others are unlucky enough to endure it all day long. That’s why food aversions are so common in pregnant women.[2] Sometimes it’s a matter of finding bland foods that settle well like crackers and ginger ale, as opposed to going back to your normal diet.

During pregnancy, women may also experience hypersensitivity in their natural gag reflex. Tickling in the back of their throat — in this case from a toothbrush or trying to maneuver floss — can set off nausea and vomiting. Even women with the strongest of willpower may not be able to force their way through a regular toothbrushing session.

The size of your toothbrush and even the flavor of the toothpaste you’re using may not be helping. And if the toothbrush is electric, the vibrations may be what’s doing you in.

Possible Complications

If you tend to get morning sickness only when brushing your teeth or putting your fingers in your mouth to floss, chances are you won’t want to brush and floss at all. But a lapse in-home care — or opting for a super-fast brushing session — can leave a plethora of dental plaque inside your mouth. As a result, it’s easier to develop gingivitis, periodontal disease, and tooth decay.[3] All of these conditions can be detrimental to a mother’s teeth and her baby alike. In fact, gum disease raises your chances of preterm birth, preeclampsia, and having a baby that’s born with low birth weight.

On the flip side, trying to work through nausea while brushing teeth can set off bouts of morning sickness that leave you miserable for hours.

How To Brush Without Nausea

1) Stop Using Toothpaste (Temporarily) 

Your favorite flavor of toothpaste may be contributing to morning sickness when brushing your teeth. As an experiment, try brushing without any toothpaste at all to see if it helps. Physically removing the plaque is the most important part, so even if you have to brush with water or a dry toothbrush, for the time being, it’s perfectly fine. You can try different flavors of toothpaste or using toothpaste later on in the day when you’re feeling better. Again, the important part is just to disrupt the softer plaque before it has a chance to calcify on your teeth.

2) Use A Smaller, Manual Toothbrush

The toothbrush you normally use may need to go into temporary storage. If tooth brushing causes morning sickness, try using a smaller (toddler size even) brush that won’t take up as much of your mouth. At the same time, avoid using an electric toothbrush since the vibrating sensations may be what’s causing your gag reflex to go off. Once things start to get better, you can go back to your favorite sonic toothbrush.

3) Skip Your Tongue For The Time Being

Your dentist and hygienist will tell you that 90% of bad breath bacteria are on your tongue. Normally when you’re cleaning your tongue, you brush from the back to the front. Or, you use a tongue scraper. But if brushing your tongue sets off your gag reflex and morning sickness, you may want to avoid brushing in for the time being. An alcohol-free antiseptic mouth rinse can temporarily help if you have any problems with bad-breath symptoms.

4) Brush At Different Times Of The Day 

Does your morning sickness seem to get better at different hours of the day? Consider switching up your toothbrushing routine. Maybe you’ll feel better brushing an hour after breakfast or even waiting until lunch. Ideally, you need to disrupt plaque a minimum of every 24 hours. Give yourself some grace. You can always re-vamp your brushing more often during the day once morning sickness subsides.

5) Rinse Your Mouth Regularly

Snacking frequently? If you get morning sickness only when brushing your teeth, try rinsing your mouth out after you eat or drink something. Fluoridated tap water has a neutral pH to help you eliminate acids while also removing excessive amounts of food debris. Plus, you really don’t even want to brush your teeth right after having a bout of nausea anyway. Doing so will rub the acids around your mouth even more, which can damage tooth enamel. Rinsing your mouth is best; wait at least 30 minutes before trying to brush your teeth again.

6) Add Xylitol Into Your Daily Routine 

Nothing replaces toothbrushing and flossing. But we do know that xylitol can inhibit dental plaque formation on teeth. You can buy xylitol drops at health food stores or find it in popular brands of chewing gum. Using xylitol a few times a day can help prevent plaque buildup. Just be sure not to ingest too much of it, as it can upset your stomach.

7) Add Fluoride If You Can

A fluoridated mouth rinse or toothpaste will help remineralize weak areas of enamel. If you can handle the flavor of fluoride products, try to use them at least once a day to counteract any lapse in extra toothbrushing sessions.  You might even talk to your dentist about a prescription-strength fluoride gel if you tend to be prone to “bad teeth.”

Overcoming Brush With Nausea

For 99% of women, morning sickness will subside at their pregnancy progresses. The majority of expectant mothers see symptoms improve after their first trimester. If you’re experiencing waves of morning sickness only when brushing teeth or putting your hands in your mouth to floss, try the above-mentioned easy changes to minimize symptoms. The important part is to still clean your mouth at some point in the day, to eliminate the bacterial plaque that is detrimental to your teeth and baby alike. And as always, talk to your dentist if you need additional advice or help.