Can pregnancy cause tooth decay? How to treat tooth decay during pregnancy

The health of a mother largely affects that of her unborn baby. And while the wellbeing of your baby is the most important thing on your mind, it is just as important that you take good care of yourself during this period.

Pregnancy causes various changes in a woman’s body, and oral health is no exception. One common concern is whether pregnancy can cause tooth decay; and if it does, how you can safely get treated.

This topic is important as untreated tooth decay may lead to serious dental problems, including infections that can harm the developing baby. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the causes of tooth problems during pregnancy and the best treatment options available.

Can pregnancy cause tooth decay

Causes of tooth decay during pregnancy

Tooth decay is a common dental problem that affects everyone across age groups. However, pregnant women may experience a higher risk of tooth decay due to various factors related to pregnancy, such as:

Hormonal changes

Pregnancy is associated with hormonal fluctuations that tend to exaggerate some dental disorders. Hormonal gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is particularly common between the second and eight month of pregnancy, resulting in red, swollen, or tender gums that bleed during brushing. This sensitivity is a response to plaque caused by the increased level of progesterone hormone in your body, which is a normal occurrence during pregnancy.

Sometimes, gum tissue overgrowths referred to as “pregnancy tumors” can appear on your gums during the second trimester. The swellings or localized growths are non-cancerous, and often form between the teeth due to excess plaque.

Severe cases of periodontal (gum) disease have been linked to increased risk of pre-term deliveries and low-birth weight. As such, it is important that expectant mothers maintain a high level of dental hygiene during pregnancy.

Poor diet

As your baby grows and develops, he/she needs plenty of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy, and if your diet and supplements don’t have sufficient amounts, your baby will get it from your bones, including the teeth. If this happens, you will be prone to severe tooth decay.

While many people believe that baby’s teeth develop after birth, studies show that they start developing in the womb and remain hidden in the gums until they erupt. So, maintaining a nutritious diet with plenty of protein and calcium during pregnancy will help your baby develop health teeth.

Make sure to stick to a well-balanced diet throughout your pregnancy and use prenatal vitamins to ensure an adequate supply of other essential minerals for you and your baby.

Increased snacking

During pregnancy, women may experience a heightened desire for food and snacking, particularly on sugary and sticky items that stay on teeth longer. The new eating and snacking tendencies tend to increase the frequency of acid attacks on teeth, which may result in tooth decay.

Morning sickness

Nausea and vomiting, which is a rather common occurrence during pregnancy, can also increase the risk and incidence of dental health problems. Frequent vomiting can leave stomach acids in the mouth, which, if not cleared away quickly, can damage the tooth surfaces and cause tooth decay.

Studies show that stomach acid is more damaging to tooth enamel than sugar or food acids, leaving your teeth vulnerable to plaque. However, brushing immediately after vomiting is much worse, because the acid softens the enamel, while brushing action scrapes it away.

Instead, rinse your mouth using plain water and wait 30 minutes before brushing.

Neglect of dental health

Pregnancy can also lead to changes in oral hygiene habits. For example, some pregnant women may neglect their oral hygiene due to morning sickness or fatigue. Additionally, hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to dry mouth, making it harder to clean teeth and reducing the protective effects of saliva. Neglecting regular dental check-ups and skipping basic oral hygiene measures at home can lead to tooth decay.

Delayed symptoms

Pregnant women may not experience any symptoms of tooth decay until it reaches an advanced stage, making it harder to treat.

Risks of untreated tooth decay during pregnancy

Untreated tooth decay during pregnancy can lead to various risks for both the mother and the developing baby, including:

Premature birth

Untreated tooth decay has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. Studies have shown that pregnant women with periodontal disease (gum disease) are more likely to give birth prematurely or to have a baby with a low birth weight.

It is thought that the bacteria associated with gum disease can enter the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response that may interfere with the development of the fetus and lead to premature birth.

While the link between tooth decay and premature birth is not as well established as the link between gum disease and premature birth, it is possible that untreated tooth decay could contribute to the risk.

Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to prioritize their dental health and seek treatment for any dental problems, including tooth decay.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during the second or third trimester and affects about 2-10% of pregnancies. It is caused by the hormonal changes and increased insulin resistance that occur during pregnancy.

Studies have shown that there is a link between untreated tooth decay during pregnancy and the development of gestational diabetes. The inflammation caused by tooth decay can make it difficult for the body to control blood sugar levels. If it occurs, your doctor may recommend a diet and exercise to manage it, but in some cases, medication may be necessary.

Untreated gestational diabetes can lead to complications for both the mother and baby. It can increase the risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and damage to organs, and can also cause the baby to grow too large, which can lead to complications during delivery. The baby may also be at a higher risk of developing low blood sugar, jaundice, and breathing problems after birth.

Increased risk of decay in offspring

Research suggests that there is a link between untreated tooth decay in pregnant mothers and an increased risk of decay in their offspring. This is because the bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transmitted from mother to child, particularly during infancy when the child’s teeth are first developing.

Studies have shown that mothers with high levels of decay-causing bacteria in their mouths are more likely to transmit these bacteria to their children, even if they practice good oral hygiene. This can lead to an increased risk of decay in the child’s teeth, particularly in the first few years of life.

Additionally, if a mother has untreated tooth decay during pregnancy, the bacteria in her mouth can continue to produce acid that can damage her own teeth and the teeth of her developing fetus. This can lead to a higher risk of decay in both the mother and child.

Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to maintain good oral hygiene and seek treatment for any tooth decay or other dental issues to reduce the risk of transmission to their offspring.

Oral infections

When tooth decay is left untreated, the bacteria can continue to multiply and cause an infection in the affected tooth and the surrounding tissues. This infection can spread to other parts of the mouth and even into the bloodstream, which can be dangerous for both the mother and the developing fetus.

In addition, pregnant women with untreated tooth decay are more likely to have gum disease, which is also caused by bacterial infection in the gums. Gum disease is characterized by redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums, which can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, ultimately leading to tooth loss.

Oral infections during pregnancy can have serious consequences, including premature birth, low birth weight, and preeclampsia. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to maintain good oral hygiene and seek dental care promptly if they notice any signs of tooth decay or gum disease.

General health concerns

Poor oral health has also been linked to other health concerns such as heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections.

As mentioned above, tooth decay can lead to oral infections that may even spread to other parts of the body, including the bloodstream, and potentially cause systemic infections. In pregnant women, such infections may pose a risk to both the mother and the developing fetus.

Moreover, untreated tooth decay can cause chronic pain, discomfort, and difficulty eating, which may result in poor nutrition and weight gain during pregnancy. These risk factors are associated with several adverse maternal and fetal outcomes, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth.

Treatment options for tooth decay during pregnancy

As discussed above, it is important to get tooth decay treated as soon as possible due to the risks associated with it, especially during pregnancy. Treatment options depend on the severity of the pain, decay, and the stage of pregnancy.

Depending on your specific case, your dentist may recommend one of the following options:

Fluoride treatment

This involves applying a fluoride gel or varnish on the teeth to help prevent further decay.

Dental fillings

If the decay is extensive, a filling may be needed to repair the tooth. Dental fillings are safe during pregnancy and can help prevent the spread of decay.

Root canal

If the decay has reached the tooth’s nerve, a root canal may be necessary to remove the infected pulp and save the tooth.

Tooth extraction

If the tooth is severely decayed and cannot be saved, it may need to be extracted. Tooth extractions are generally avoided during the second trimester of pregnancy, but they may be necessary in some cases.

Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene can help prevent tooth decay during pregnancy.

Is it safe to get tooth cavity treatment during pregnancy?

It is essential to discuss the treatment options with a dentist and obstetrician before proceeding with any dental work during pregnancy. In some cases, it may be necessary to delay treatment until after delivery, while in others, it may be safer to treat the decay ASAP to prevent further complications.

The American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant women receive routine dental care, including dental cleanings and treatment for cavities, to maintain good oral health.

Dental work during pregnancy is largely safe, and measures can be taken to ensure the safety of both the mother and the developing fetus, such as using lead aprons during dental X-rays and avoiding certain medications.

It is important for pregnant women to communicate with their dentist and obstetrician about any concerns and to maintain good oral hygiene habits at home to prevent tooth decay.

Final thoughts

Overall, pregnant women should be aware of these risk factors and take extra care to maintain good oral hygiene, eat a healthy diet, and visit their dentist regularly to prevent dental cavities and other dental health problems.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

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