While pregnant women often receive a long list of things to avoid to keep their baby safe and healthy, dental x-rays are not on that list. Today, dental x-rays during pregnancy are considered safe.
The amount of radiation used during an x-ray in the mouth is very low, and dentists take precautions, such as using a protective blanket, to further reduce the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to. In fact, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have determined that dental x-rays are safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women.
And because x-rays can quickly diagnose problems that could affect a mother’s health, their benefits outweigh any risks.
Yes, Dental X-Rays During Pregnancy Are Safe
Dental x-rays, also known as radiographs, use a small amount of radiation to create images of a patient’s teeth. Over the years, technology has brought about significant advancements in the safety of dental x-rays. For instance, use of digital x-ray images by dentists today reduces the amount of radiation by as much as 80% compared to film x-rays used in the past.
While pregnant people might be concerned that radiation exposure could harm their baby, dental x-rays focus only on the patient’s mouth. The amount of radiation produced by dental x-rays today is minimal, and the fetus will not be exposed at all.
Dentists and dental hygienists are trained to adhere to strict safety standards for the use of x-rays in a dental office setting. The Food and Drug Administration publishes safety guidelines for x-ray operation. The technology is regulated by state and local authorities, and dentists must license their equipment and have it inspected annually. Patient safety is maintained by:
- Only using x-ray equipment that is inspected and licensed by state and local authorities.
- Using protective aprons. For pregnant women, a protective apron will cover the abdomen to block any radiation from the x-ray, protecting the baby.
- Using a short exposure time. Modern x-ray technology requires a very short exposure to radiation to capture an image.
- Using a level of radiation exposure that is less than most other medical imaging technologies and natural sources.
Though extremely high doses of radiation can be harmful to a developing fetus, these levels are not used in diagnostic x-ray imaging. A dental x-ray is focused on the patient’s mouth, far away from the baby. Use of a protective apron further blocks any radiation exposure. For these reasons, having dental x-rays when pregnant is not associated with harm to a patient’s baby.
Trimester Timing for Dental X-Rays
Sometimes a patient will visit the dentist before she even knows that she is pregnant. Good news: patients who receive x-rays at the dentist before they know about a pregnancy do not need to be concerned. Dental x-rays are focused on the mouth, and dental professionals take precautions for every patient, pregnant or not, to minimize exposure to x-ray radiation as much as possible.
The same is true for the three trimesters of pregnancy: dental x-rays are typically considered safe at any point. Some patients opt to delay dental x-rays until after the first trimester of pregnancy since this is the most active period in terms of the development of the fetus, but the American Pregnancy Association has found no medical reason for doing so.
While x-rays are safe any time during pregnancy, dentists and doctors often recommend pregnant women have restorative dental work such as fillings or crowns completed during the second trimester, since lying flat during the third trimester can be difficult.
Drawbacks to Delaying Dental X-Rays During Pregnancy
Dental x-rays are a powerful diagnostic tool and part of a comprehensive dental exam. Adults are recommended to have x-rays every 12-24 months, or sooner if the patient is experiencing discomfort or the dentist needs to monitor previously diagnosed issues.
Delaying regular x-rays means any underlying tooth decay, dental disease, or other problems could go undiagnosed and untreated. These could become worse over time and potentially cause pain and/or additional health issues for the pregnant patient. In addition, changes in hormones and eating habits during pregnancy can make a woman more at risk for oral health issues such as cavities. This makes keeping up on routine x-rays even more important.
Talk it Over with Your Dentist
The best way to decide about getting x-rays while pregnant is to discuss your concerns with your dentist. If you are not already under the care of a dentist, use our online search tool to find a dental office near you.