The problem among dentists is decades old. Many "were taught in dental school that you can't treat a pregnant woman," said Dr. Renee Samelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albany Medical Center, who was an editor of the first guidelines on oral health in pregnancy, which were published by the New York State Department of Health and advised on two more sets of guidelines. Dentists simply erred on the side of caution, she added: "There was no evidence of harm."
Today, although dental treatment during pregnancy is considered beneficial, some dentists still hesitate to see pregnant women, because they fear litigation or harm to the fetus, or their knowledge of appropriate care lags behind the current evidence. One 2009 survey of 351 obstetrician gynecologists nationwide found 77 percent reported their patients had been "declined dental services because of pregnancy."
"A lot of dentists still fear treating pregnant women, and think, 'What happens if I have to do an X-ray?' or 'What happens if I give antibiotics or local anesthesia?'" said Dr. Howard Minkoff, the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. "None of these are legitimate reasons not to provide appropriate care for women."
Since 2006, a few state organizations and dental associations have issued practice guidelines declaring that dental care is safe and effective at any stage of pregnancy, including diagnostic X-rays, cavity restorations and root canals.
OB-GYNs should check for bleeding gums or oral infection and refer a patient to a dentist if her last visit was longer than six months ago, according to the first national consensus statement on dental care during pregnancy, published in September by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center at Georgetown University.
The statement advised dentists to provide emergency care in any trimester. OB-GYNs can be consulted, as necessary, if a pregnant patient is diabetic or hypertensive, or if general anesthesia is required.
Image: Dentist with woman, via Shutterstock