He notes, however, some women may have received additional X-rays for outside medical reasons, which he says could not have been controlled for in this study.
How to Minimize X-ray Exposure
Current guidelines from the American Dental Association instruct dentists to avoid taking X-rays on pregnant patients if at all possible, especially during the first trimester when fetal organs are developing, and the third trimester when the risk of inducing pre-term labor is higher.
Experts, including Hujoel, say this study shouldn't change those guidelines.
"It reiterates what we're already telling them," says Dr. Ken Burrell, senior director of the counsel on scientific affairs for the ADA in Chicago, Ill. He says unnecessary X-rays can be delayed until after pregnancy.
Burrell also stresses the importance of using lead aprons and neck collars to minimize radiation exposure, which he believes most dentists do. In addition, there should be open lines of communication.
"It would be worthwhile to inform the dentist if you are pregnant," says Hujoel. Since many of women in the study had their dental X-rays during the first trimester, he speculates they either didn't know they were pregnant, never thought to tell their dentists, or their dentists never bothered to ask.
"Pregnant women should not skip their dental visits," emphasizes Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, dean of University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia. She says if you have symptoms or an infection, going to the dentist is still the best thing to do for both your unborn child and yourself, even if treatment requires X-rays to be taken.
Benn warns allowing tooth or gum disease to fester can lead to a more severe infection that can reach the fetus through the blood. Treatment would then require taking X-rays anyway, and could warrant more extensive treatment requiring anesthesia and oral surgery, putting the fetus at even higher risk for harm.