Are X-rays and dental surgery safe during pregnancy?

Many pregnant women avoid the dentist, fearing their baby could be put at risk. But experts say untreated decay can be more harmful.

With cravings for treat foods and morning sickness potentially increasing acidity in the mouth, pregnant women can have a higher risk of tooth decay.

And while some believe X-rays and anaesthetics are dangerous for those expecting, studies show that’s not the case if used appropriately and with the right precautions.

Bupa dentist Dr Mark Psillakis says untreated dental problems can be more of a risk to the unborn child during pregnancy than any dental treatment. 

Oral health problems in pregnancy

Pregnant women can have increased acidity in the mouth due to sugary cravings, limited attention to oral health, and vomiting in morning sickness.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also cause gingivitis, which makes the gums inflamed, bleed easily and have an exaggerated response to plaque. If untreated gingivitis can progress to a more serious condition called periodontitis where the gums recede and your teeth can become loose or even fall out.

Leaving dental problems untreated isn’t just bad for your teeth; it can cause complications in pregnancy.

“Untreated dental problems are also a risk to the child,” says Dr Psillakis.

“For example, periodontitis and inflammation may lead to pre term delivery and low birth weight children and pre-eclampsia.”

Learn more about the link between pregnancy complications and gum disease.

Are dental x-rays safe during pregnancy?

Dr Psillakis says with the right precautions, dental X-rays are safe for pregnant women. But he suggests avoiding them in the first trimester, the period of major development for the foetus.

He says if a pregnant woman has severe non-specific pain in the first trimester, an X-ray is recommended, but as a general rule an X-ray as part of a routine check up can be put off until the second trimester.

 “Digital X-rays these days use really low dose radiation and with the use of a lead apron and a thyroid guard it really is quite safe to take X-rays.”

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pregnant woman at dentist

Is dental surgery safe during pregnancy?

Dr Psillakis says there have been many studies which show there are generally no issues with having dental surgery while pregnant.

“We pick anaesthetics that we use specifically for pregnant women,” he says.

According to Dr Psillakis there are anaesthetics which shouldn’t be used on pregnant women as they contain felypressin, a blood-vessel constricting chemical which can have an effect similar to oxytocin, a hormone that leads to the uterine contraction in labour.

“Although this is highly unlikely given the low concentration utilised, we have a whole myriad of other anaesthetics we would use to avoid that so there really isn’t an issue with using anaesthetics during pregnancy.”

Does the baby suck the calcium from your teeth?

Dr Psillakis says this is one of the biggest myths surrounding oral health in pregnancy.

Unlike our bones, adult teeth no longer require nutrients from your bloodstream.

“It’s other factors like morning sickness, acid reflux, and changes in what you eat that can wreak havoc on your teeth,” he says.

Planning 

Dr Psillakis says if you’re planning to start a family, considering your oral health should be an important part of that.

“In pregnancy there are so many changes happening to the body, and the mouth is not exempt,” he says.

“Just like you prepare for a healthy pregnancy by taking folic acid you should go to see your dentist.”

If there’s a problem like impacted wisdom teeth, it’s better to get that sorted out before the baby comes along.

Tips to keep your teeth healthy in pregnancy

  • Rinse your mouth after bouts of morning sickness instead of brushing straight away which can destroy the enamel. A simple rinse of a cup of water mixed with a teaspoon of baking soda can help neutralise the acid.
  • Continue to visit your dentist for check ups
  • Be mindful of what you eat – keep to a healthy, balanced diet
  • Brush your teeth twice a day, morning and night
  • Floss daily

You can find a hub of information, support and inspiration to help guide you through the first thousand days your parenting journey, from conception to two years old, here.

Pregnancy - oral health - Bupa Dental
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