Dangers of dental work while pregnant

It is a common belief among many people that getting any kind of dental work during pregnancy can put the lives of both the developing baby and expectant mom. However, the opposite is more accurate. Actually, pregnancy is a time when women should be more cautious about their oral health, which could involve more frequent dental visits as one of the best practices, to ensure the health and safety of both the mother and child.

But is it safe to perform dental work that requires the use of anesthesia, sedation, medications, oral surgery, or even dental X-rays during pregnancy?

While some dental procedures may be necessary during pregnancy, dental work is often overlooked as a potential risk. The dangers of dental work while pregnant have been a topic of concern for many years, and recent studies have shed light on the potential risks.

dental work while pregnant

Challenges in Providing Dental Care for Pregnant Women

Pregnancy is a beautiful phase of life, but it also comes with various challenges and changes in the mother’s body. The oral cavity is no exception to these changes, as a storm of hormones is induced during pregnancy, causing an increase in the secretion of female sex hormones. This increase in hormones is important for the normal progression of pregnancy, but it can also result in several systemic and local physiologic and physical changes in the pregnant woman’s body.

The changes in the oral cavity can pose various challenges in providing dental care for pregnant patients. Understanding these changes is essential for the management of pregnant and nursing mothers. In this context, dental professionals must also consider the effects of anesthesia, dental radiation, and medications used in dentistry for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and babies.

It is important to strike a balance between providing necessary dental care and minimizing potential risks to the mother and fetus.

Impact of Systemic Changes on Oral Health during Pregnancy

During pregnancy, women experience various systemic changes that can affect their oral health and pose challenges for dental professionals. According to a study on Dental Considerations in Pregnancy, these changes include:

  • Respiratory alterations such as dyspnea, hyperventilation, and snoring, which can make it difficult for pregnant women to breathe while receiving dental care
  • Gastrointestinal alterations such as heartburn, nausea, and vomiting can also cause discomfort and make it challenging to perform dental procedures, especially during morning appointments.
  • Renal and haemodynamic alterations can affect drug dosing requirements and increase the risk of decubitus hypotension syndrome (a sudden drop in blood pressure that can occur when the patient is in a horizontal position).
  • Endocrine alterations, including gestational diabetes, can also impact oral health.

Additionally, pregnant women may be at an increased risk of cariesperiodontal disease, and pyogenic granulomas due to hormonal changes and altered immune function.

As such, dental professionals must be aware of these challenges and take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and comfort of their pregnant patients during dental procedures.

Elements of dental work that may put pregnant women at risk


Anesthesia for dental work during pregnancy is generally considered safe when proper precautions are taken. However, it is important to note that all medical procedures, including anesthesia, carry some risks.

The type and amount of anesthesia used during dental work will depend on the procedure being performed and the patient’s individual needs. Local anesthesia, which numbs only a specific area of the mouth, is generally preferred during pregnancy. This is because it does not affect the whole body, and the amount of the drug that reaches the fetus is negligible.

If more extensive dental work is needed, such as wisdom teeth extraction or multiple tooth extractions, general anesthesia or conscious sedation may be required. In these cases, it is important to consult with an obstetrician and a dental professional experienced in treating pregnant women to weigh the risks and benefits.

Proper monitoring of the mother and fetus during the procedure is crucial, as well as the use of appropriate equipment and techniques to minimize risks to both. It is also important to avoid elective dental procedures during the first trimester of pregnancy, when the risk of birth defects is greatest.

Overall, the safety of anesthesia during dental work depends on a variety of factors, including the type of anesthesia used, the length and complexity of the procedure, and the individual patient’s health status. It is important to discuss any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider and dental professional.

Safety of Sedation

The safety of sedation during pregnancy depends on several factors, including the type and duration of sedation, the stage of pregnancy, and the overall health of the mother and the fetus.

The use of sedation during dental work in pregnant women is a controversial topic. In general, sedation is not recommended during the first trimester of pregnancy, as this is a critical period of fetal development. However, some sedatives may be used during the second and third trimesters for specific medical procedures or surgeries, but only under close medical supervision and with the informed consent of the mother.

The type of sedation used, the dosage, and the duration of the procedure are important factors to consider. Inhalation sedation with nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) is generally considered safe for pregnant women, as it has a short duration of action and is rapidly eliminated from the body. However, sedation with other agents such as benzodiazepines or opioids may carry more risks, such as crossing the placenta and affecting the developing baby, and should only be used if absolutely necessary and under close medical supervision.

It is important for pregnant women to inform their dental provider of their pregnancy status before any treatment is initiated. The dentist and medical provider should work together to determine the best approach to dental treatment, taking into consideration the risks and benefits of sedation in each individual case.

Dangers of using Medications

During pregnancy, there are changes in the pharmacokinetics of drugs which affect the way the body processes drugs. These changes include:

  • A higher volume of drug distribution – means that the drug is more widely spread throughout the body, beyond just the bloodstream. The drug is absorbed into tissues or organs, or being bound to proteins in the body.
  • Lower maximum plasma concentration – means that the highest concentration of the drug in the bloodstream after taking a dose is lower. This can be due to factors such as how quickly the drug is absorbed or eliminated from the body.
  • Lower plasma half-life – means that the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be eliminated from the bloodstream is shorter. This can be due to factors such as how quickly the drug is metabolized or eliminated from the body.
  • Higher lipid solubility – means that the drug can dissolve more easily in fat, which can affect how it is absorbed and distributed in the body.
  • A higher clearance of the drug – means that the rate at which the drug is eliminated from the body is higher, which can result in a shorter duration of action for the drug. This can be due to factors such as how quickly the drug is metabolized or eliminated by the liver or kidneys.

As a result, certain drugs may pose risks to the developing fetus, such as causing miscarriage, teratogenicity, and low birth weight.

The FDA has categorized teratogenic drugs into categories A, B, C, D, and X, based on the risk posed to the fetus. Category A drugs have been proven to be safe, while category X drugs have been proven to be harmful to the fetus.

Dental professionals are generally aware of these categories and prescribe drugs that are safe during pregnancy.

That said, some commonly used drugs in dentistry, such as macrolides and metronidazole, have been classified as category B drugs, meaning they have not been shown to cause harm to the fetus.


  • Tetracyclines should be avoided due to the risk of permanent dental staining in the fetus.
  • Use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should also be avoided during pregnancy, as they have been associated with increased risks of cardiac septal defects and premature closure of the ductus arteriosus.

The use of medication in dentistry during pregnancy should be carefully considered, and only drugs that are safe for the fetus should be prescribed. It is important for healthcare providers to be aware of the risks and benefits of different drugs and to follow the guidelines provided by the FDA.

Dental X-rays during pregnancy

Dental x-rays are a useful diagnostic tool for identifying oral diseases and conditions. However, they use ionizing radiation, which can damage cells and DNA, and the foetus is more susceptible to adverse effects from radiation exposure than adults. Therefore, pregnant patients should be evaluated for the necessity of radiographs and the potential risks before performing any dental procedures that require radiation exposure.

According to research, dental radiation exposure during pregnancy is generally considered safe and the foetal exposure is negligible. However, radiation exposure can be harmful to the foetus depending on the amount of radiation and the stage of pregnancy.

  • The highest risk to the foetus for teratogenicity and death is during the first 10 days after conception, and the most critical period of foetal development is between 4-18 weeks after conception.

Therefore, if a pregnant patient requires dental radiographs, the physician should inquire about the patient’s last menstrual period and use lead shielding over the patient’s abdomen, a properly collimated beam, and a high-speed film to reduce the foetal exposure.

  • The National Commission for Radiation Protective recommends that the cumulative foetal exposure to radiation should not exceed more than 0.20 Gy, which can cause microcephaly and mental retardation. Therefore, the exposure should be kept as low as reasonably achievable to avoid any potential harm to the foetus.

CT scans are a useful diagnostic tool for localizing deep-seated infections and viewing lateral pharyngeal infections. CT doses are higher than those of plain radiography, but doses to the foetus can be kept to a minimum by carefully using shielding devices.

MRI may be an alternative to CT when foetal irradiation is a concern. MRI has a greater soft tissue sensitivity and contrast compared to CT and provides no ionizing radiation. However, the risks of foetal exposure to strong magnetic fields are not entirely known. Therefore, physicians must evaluate the potential risks and benefits of using MRI as an alternative to CT in pregnant patients.

In summary, CT scans can be useful in diagnosing certain oral conditions but should be used judiciously to limit foetal exposure to ionizing radiation. MRI can be an alternative to CT, but the potential risks of foetal exposure to strong magnetic fields need further investigation.

Guidelines for dental care during pregnancy

Dental care for pregnant women requires special considerations due to the changes that occur in their body, which may affect the dental treatment and the developing fetus.

First Trimester (1-12 weeks)

During the first trimester, the dental practitioner should focus on educating the patient about the maternal oral changes that occur during pregnancy and emphasize strict oral hygiene instructions to control plaque.

Dental procedures should be avoided during this period due to the risk posed by teratogens (substances or agents that can cause birth defects in the developing fetus) during the critical period of organogenesis, which is the first trimester of pregnancy, and the high rate of spontaneous abortions.

Some common teratogens include alcohol, tobacco, certain medications, chemicals, and infections. The risk posed by teratogens during organogenesis is that they can cause irreversible damage to the developing organs and tissues, leading to birth defects or developmental disorders.

The extent and severity of the damage depend on the type, dose, timing, and duration of exposure to the teratogen, as well as the genetic susceptibility of the fetus. Exposure to these teratogens during organogenesis can lead to various birth defects, such as cleft lip and palate, heart defects, neural tube defects, limb deformities, and cognitive impairment.

Radiographs should be used selectively and only when needed.

Second Trimester (13-24 weeks)

During the second trimester, the risk to the fetus is low, and the mother has adjusted to her pregnancy. Scaling, polishing, and curettage may be performed if necessary, and active oral diseases should be controlled.

  • Routine dental care is safe during this period, and elective dental care may also be performed.
  • Radiographs should still be used selectively and only when needed.

Proper positioning of the patient during the procedure is essential to avoid supine hypotension.

Third Trimester (25-40 weeks)

During the third trimester, the focus is on the safety and comfort of the pregnant woman and the upcoming birth process.

  • Routine dental treatments should be avoided in the second half of the third trimester.
  • Oral hygiene instructions and plaque control should be maintained, and scaling, polishing, and curettage may be performed if necessary.

Elective dental care should be avoided during this period, and radiographs should be used selectively and only when needed.

Final thoughts

Dental management during pregnancy requires careful consideration of the stage of pregnancy and the potential risks to both the mother and the fetus. Dental practitioners should educate their patients about maternal oral changes, emphasize strict oral hygiene instructions, and limit dental treatment to periodontal prophylaxis and emergency treatments, preferably in the second and third trimester.

Elective dental care should be avoided during the third trimester, and radiographs should be used selectively and only when necessary.

Proper positioning of the patient during the procedure is also essential to avoid supine hypotension.

Dental practitioners should not hesitate to consult the patient’s obstetrician if any questions arise about the safety of a procedure.





  • 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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