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Can a Tooth Abscess Harm The Fetus?

A tooth abscess will not directly harm the unborn baby because dental infections tend to be very localized and typically does not spread beyond the mouth.


Localized abscess on the gums
Localized abscess on the gums

However, the physical and psychological stress from having an infected tooth can impacted the hormone levels of expecting mothers. That may not be beneficial to the fetus.


To be clear, it is a dental emergency and will require emergency dental treatment.


We're going to explore the consequences of having an active tooth infection such as a dental abscess and its effects on the fetus. We're going to explain what you can and should do about it if you're in that situation.


Can a dental abscess harm an unborn child?

An abscessed tooth is NOT in close proximity to where the fetus is so it is unlikely for the infection to spread to it. You also don't have to worry about your baby catching your abscess and developing their own tooth abscess because fetus do not have teeth!


However that doesn't mean that your festering dental abscess is not detrimental to the baby in your womb. It may not physically affect it but it can influence its development in other ways.


According to a study in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, psychological distress can affect fetal weight. They found that women with psychological distress tended to exhibit higher cortisol levels which in turn led to lower birth weight for their babies.


Untreated dental pain from abscesses can be very stressful

Having an abscessed tooth doesn't directly harm your baby but it can indirectly harm it. Typically a dental abscess is very painful, which is why it is considered a dental emergency. Studies have shown that experiencing dental pain can lead to elevated cortisol levels.


Therefore if you have a painful active abscess, it could raises your cortisol level and that may lead to low fetal birth weight.


Do you remember the last time you had an abscess in your tooth? How painful was it and was it stressful? We're willing to bet it probably upended your entire schedule until you had it treated.


Signs of an abscess in your mouth:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Bleeding

  • Bad breath

  • Purulence

If you notice any of the above signs, you should definitely get a consultation with your dentist.


Safe to treat a dental abscess while pregnant?

Most people's knee jerk reaction to getting dental treatment during pregnancy is that you shouldn't do it. However that couldn't be farther from the truth because it is perfectly safe to receive ALL types of needed dental procedures.


According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), any conditions that require immediate treatment should be performed. The ACOG states that delaying it will only result in more complex problems and in our case that would be low birth weight.


The guidelines by ACOG did not specifically mention a tooth abscess but that is considered part of what needs "immediate treatment". ThAe treatment for these abscesses usually involve a root canal or extraction. Both of those are listed as approved procedures.


In case you were wondering, all of those procedures which are listed would require dental anesthesia. You'll definitely need to be numb in order to be comfortable for the entire procedure. What we're implying is that it is safe to get local anesthetics and that includes epinephrine in it while you're pregnant.


Routine dental care

Regardless of whether or not you have an abscess, it is actually recommended by both the ACOG and the ADA to continue to receive routine care during pregnancy. That means you shouldn't stop getting your dental check ups and cleanings just because you're carrying a baby.


If anything, we would say that some pregnant women may even need to see the dentist more often during the process. The reason is due to the elevated levels of hormones which causes the body to overreact to plaque build up.


Sometimes the gums become more irritated and inflamed while you're pregnant. It can get bad enough that you can develop a condition called a pregnancy tumor.a It isn't a true tumor but it sure looks like a serious dental abscess.


In order to minimize the chances of that happening, you should strive to increase your oral hygiene frequency. Brush and floss more frequently if you're able to. If you need help, you can always get an extra dental cleaning by your dentist or hygienist.


Prevention is the best cure

It is not pleasant to have an abscess during the middle of pregnancy. You already have a lot of extraneous tasks that you need to do such has frequent visits to the obstetrician. Adding in unexpected emergency dental visits can certainly be highly stressful.


Therefore it may be good idea to try to have all of the dental issues that you've been holding off to be completed as promptly as possible. In fact its probably best to have it all taken care of before you get pregnant.


If you can't, we would still try to get all potential problems that can turn serious addressed sooner rather than later. Even if it is not hurting you at the moment, if it seems like it could be a problem you should still have it treated regardless of which trimester you're in. That is okay to do according to the pregnancy guidelines.


Aside from that we would like to emphasize one last point and that is to be extra on top of your oral hygiene. The reason is because you tend to eat more and crave more foods. You're not only feeding yourself but for another small human as well. Due to that, you may experience a lot more plaque build up due to the more frequent meals.


What you should do

  • Try to brush more often. Typically we recommend twice but if you could do three times or after each meal, it would be even better!

  • Floss as often as you can. Some pregnant women experience a lot more bleeding with their gums.

  • Rinse your mouth out with mouthwash. If you have morning sickness and you throw up, a baking soda mouth rinse is great for neutralizing the acid. It can prevent enamel erosion.


The purpose of doing all of this is to minimize and decrease the chances of you getting an abscess while you're pregnant. It will at least minimize the stress that you're having and therefore will be less of a chance of it affecting your fetus.


Takeaway

A tooth abscess won't harm the unborn baby directly but it can do so indirectly in a roundabout way. Since infections are painful it will increase the cortisol level in your body. Studies have shown that elevated cortisol levels may lead to low birth weight.


If you don't want your baby being born underweight, it would behoove you to not let that dental abscess fester throughout the entire pregnancy. Get it treated as promptly as possible because the faster you can get out of pain, the less stressed you'll be.



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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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