December 12, 2018 Tri Le Everyone wants to enjoy a pearly-white smile. For many individuals, a quick trip to the dentist, coupled with the purchase of professional strips, gels, trays, or a teeth whitening kit can result in a beautiful and bright smile. However, for pregnant women (and those breastfeeding), the risks associated with whitening teeth must first be assessed before any products are purchased. Pregnancy & Oral Health While there are currently no studies that show teeth whitening during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unsafe, there are also no published studies that show teeth whitening via bleach or other professional products is safe for an unborn child or those that are still nursing. With this in mind, it is important to note that pregnancy affects practically every aspect of a woman’s life. From her food consumption to the exercises that she completes to her oral health, for the safety and health of her unborn child, a woman must be careful both during pregnancy and afterwards when she is breastfeeding. In fact, pregnant women should be on the lookout for the following common oral health conditions. Dry Mouth – Did you know that pregnancy can place women at higher risk of dry mouth? When left untreated, dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay and oral infections. The easiest way to combat dry mouth during pregnancy is to rinse with an alcohol-free mouthwash at least once a day. Gum Disease – The hormonal changes that women experience during pregnancy can often lead to increased gum sensitivity. In some cases, the heightened level of sensitivity can cause soreness or pain. To avoid further gum pain, pregnant women should gently brush their teeth with a soft brush, floss their teeth twice a day, and use an alcohol-free mouthwash. The latter steps can also help to reduce the risk of developing gum disease or pregnancy gingivitis. Enamel Erosion – Morning sickness can often occur throughout a woman’s pregnancy. Unfortunately, morning sickness is often accompanied with highly acidic vomit, which can lead to enamel erosion. To avoid this oral health issue, a pregnant woman should rinse her mouth with water immediately after experiencing morning sickness symptoms. Maintaining oral health levels is especially important during a pregnancy. However, it is important to note that teeth whitening can potentially aggravate oral health symptoms and thus cause unnecessary risks to both the mother and growing child. What Is Dangerous About Teeth Whitening? Over the counter teeth whitening kits and in-office procedures use chemicals, such as peroxide compounds, to whiten and brighten teeth. Unfortunately, when used in concentrations of more than 10 percent, peroxide has been shown to cause tissue damage. Additionally, there are new concerns regarding the safety of using peroxide compounds in large quantities for any individual. In this vein, when there is a risk of gum and tissue damage, the question that many dentists ask pregnant and breastfeeding women is, “why risk it?” Since your gums are often more sensitive when you are pregnant, it is ill-advised to use a teeth whitening kit or in-office procedure that could potentially cause further irritation. Additionally, pregnancy gingivitis can cause gum inflammation, a condition which could be worsened by the use of bleach to whiten teeth. Finally, the dangers of small amounts of teeth whitening products are still being explored. In this vein, just as women are careful to avoid drinking, smoking, and other harmful substances during their pregnancy and subsequent breastfeeding months, so too should they take the necessary precautions when it comes to their oral health and teeth whitening procedures. Are Any Whitening Procedures Safe During Pregnancy? The “bad news” is that many whitening procedures are not safe during pregnancy. These procedures include the following list: Any products that have carbamide peroxide should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. In-office bleaching procedures (especially those that require a UV laser or UV light, such as the popular Zoom brand) should be avoided. Those brands that don’t require a UV laser should also be avoided. At-home whitening strips or gels (such as Opalescence) should be avoided when pregnant or breastfeeding. While activated charcoal does have FDA approval for certain health uses, the American Dental Association has not approved any activated charcoal products for dentistry use. The good news is that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, then you can still use whitening toothpaste to help brighten your smile. Keep in mind that some whitening toothpastes can cause gum discomfort, inflammation, or irritation. If the latter symptoms occur, then you should stop using the toothpaste and consult with your dentist regarding an alternative product. Finally, don’t forget that you should always practice great oral hygiene throughout your entire pregnancy. What Can You Do to Get a Better Smile During Pregnancy? While it might be tempting to purchase over the counter Spotlight whitening strips, or rely on the Opalescence whitening gel, you should wait until you are no longer pregnant or breastfeeding for effective teeth whitening treatment. Instead, if you want to enjoy a better and brighter smile, then you can avoid foods that stain your teeth. You should also regularly brush and floss your teeth in the morning, after meals, and at night. If your gums aren’t too sensitive, then you can also use a dentist-approved whitening toothpaste to remove surface stains. Finally, you can and should schedule regular dental visits for teeth cleaning, so that your gums can remain happy and healthy, your teeth can remain cavity-free, and your smile can stay bright and beautiful. Tri LeA practicing dentist since 1987, Dr. Le has been running successful dental practices in Texas with his wife Ann since 1990. A member of the ADA, AACD and AADSM, Dr. Le has also contributed to several leading dental journals.