Like others, my husband was the very first person I told when I found out I was pregnant. Unlike most, the second person I informed was my dentist.
I had scheduled my semi-annual cleaning well in advance. Little did I know that I would be 7 weeks along by the time it came around and already struggling with an aching tooth that caused discomfort every time I bit down on something. Plus, my teeth in general felt weaker than normal—almost like they were loose.
While not often talked about within my circle of mom friends, dental issues during pregnancy are actually quite common. Maybe you’re experiencing similar symptoms and wonder if it’s safe to have a cleaning, x-ray, or dental procedures done while pregnant. I wondered the same thing!
But before we get into safety concerns, what causes these annoying symptoms?
Causes of sensitive teeth and toothaches during pregnancy.
As you might already suspect, tooth decay (also known as a cavity) is a frequent cause of aching or sensitive teeth. But they’re not the only reason! Gum issues can also produce similar symptoms.
When your gums swell or become irritated, they start to recede, exposing the bottom surface of the tooth called the dentin. This surface area is softer than the rest of the tooth and is constructed of small tubes that allow food and drinks to travel directly to the nerve—causing pain.
So what causes gum swelling?
According to the American Pregnancy Association and WebMD, hormonal changes, poor oral hygiene, smoking, diabetes, and sugary foods can irritate the gums and lead to the teeth problems you may be experiencing.
The surge of hormones throughout the body during pregnancy, as well as increased blood volume, can cause the gums of many expecting mamas to swell, bleed, and become irritated, even if you’re religious with brushing and flossing.
Meanwhile, consuming sweet, sugary foods and drinks feed the bad bacteria in your mouth, which allows plaque to build up on your teeth and attack the enamel. It’s important to note that the acid in vomit is also corrosive to your enamel. When that protective coating wears away, it results in cavities.
For some, brushing our teeth and flossing fall by the wayside when we’re pregnant for a myriad of reasons, including forgetfulness (blame it on the pregnancy brain), fatigue, and morning sickness. As a result, however, plaque starts to build up, causing tooth decay, sensitivity, and aches.
What can you do to find relief?
- Prevention is key. Addressing any dental issues with your dentist before you conceive can help you avoid problems during pregnancy.
- Practice effective oral hygiene. Brush for two minutes at least twice a day (ideally before breakfast and before bed) with a fluoride toothpaste. If the flavor of your toothpaste is causing nausea, try switching to a mild or fruity flavor—or ask your dentist for recommendations. Floss once daily, preferably right before bed. Use a soft-bristled manual or electric toothbrush since hard bristles can wear down the enamel coating faster for some people, causing more discomfort.
- Don’t brush your teeth immediately after vomiting. Doing so can further damage your teeth. Instead, BabyCenter suggests putting some toothpaste on your finger, rubbing it over your teeth and gums, and rinsing with water. Or follow the American Dental Association’s advice: mix a teaspoon of baking soda into a small glass of water and rinse out your mouth—this is a great option if you’re at somebody else’s house when you get sick.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid sugary snacks. Making sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, during your pregnancy can help strengthen your teeth. Also, foods high in Vitamins A and C are thought to be effective in fighting gum inflammation and disease, if that’s where your symptoms are stemming from. Foods high in Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach. For Vitamin C, try oranges, red peppers, broccoli, and strawberries.
- Rinse with salt water. My mom always used to make me gargle with salt water when I was getting a sore throat since it can prevent infections. Therefore, if your teeth problems are caused by swollen, irritated gums, a salt water rinse may help prevent infections of the gums from occurring.
- Visit your dentist. Keeping up with your cleanings and taking care of oral issues as they arise is one of the best ways to find relief. But if you’re like me, you may be wondering what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to dentistry during pregnancy. So let’s take a look!
Everything you need to know about visiting the dentist during your pregnancy
Many expecting mamas think they need to avoid the dentist entirely or only have dental procedures done during the second trimester. But both of these perspectives are outdated.
Not only does the American Dental Association (ADA) encourage pregnant women to schedule cleanings for any time during pregnancy, they also talk about what procedures are safe.
Can you have local anesthetics while pregnant?
According to a study published in the August 2015 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association, it is safe for expecting mamas to receive local anesthetics. Therefore, if you need cavities taken care of or a tooth extracted, rest assured that you can do it safely with pain medication that won’t put your baby at risk.
Are dental x-rays safe?
The same study referenced above also declared it safe to have x-rays performed while pregnant. X-ray technology has advanced significantly in recent decades and poses no known risk to your baby should you need an x-ray to diagnose a problem. Your hygienist should cover your abdomen and neck with a leaded jacket to provide the utmost protection to you and your little one.
Should you have elective dental procedures done?
The ADA recommends holding off on any elective procedures until after baby arrives, just to be on the safe side. No need to put your body or your baby through the stress of a procedure that can wait a few months.
What about medications your dentist may prescribe?
Your dentist can provide more in-depth ways to manage your symptoms and provide pregnancy-safe prescriptions to help you find relief if your situation warrants it. But be sure to advise him or her on any medications you are taking, including your prenatal vitamins.
Now you know everything you needed to know about this common—though rarely discussed—pregnancy symptom. If you’re a nerd like me and would like to test your knowledge of all this information, check out the ADA’s “Pregnancy Fact or Fiction” quiz.
Now it’s your turn! Let us know in the comments if sensitive teeth or toothaches are part of your pregnancy symptoms and what worked/is working for you.