Apparently, you’re supposed to get all glowy and gorgeous during pregnancy. But for many actual expectant humans (e.g., not the kind that only appear in movies and TV shows), being pregnant can make it look like you’ve been dragged through the mud instead.

The truth is, you do look beautiful — because you are. But you’re feeling puffy and bloated, your hair is greasy, and you think your skin is splotchier than a Jackson Pollock painting. This is when you think — at least you can brighten up your pearly whites, right? If your teeth are blindingly white, maybe no one will notice the other stuff!

Except… you can’t. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but for the most part, it’s not recommended that you whiten your teeth during pregnancy. Here’s why you should get your glow on another way while you’re expecting.

In-office whitening procedures usually involve a process called dental bleaching, which removes stubborn dental stains with a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide.

There are a few variations on the procedure, but either way, professional whitening means a chemical solution will be applied to your teeth and left on for a period of time before being removed. (You may need to go for several sessions to get maximum results.)

There isn’t any evidence that teeth whitening is dangerous for pregnant people, but there isn’t any evidence that it’s safe, either. The percentages of chemicals used in teeth whitening procedures are higher than we normally come into contact with.

Considering what we know about the risks of teeth whitening in general —even outside of pregnancy — most dentists suggest that you hold off on the procedure until after pregnancy, just to be on the safe side.

Pretty much everything carries a slightly higher-than-average risk during pregnancy, mostly because the pregnant body is more vulnerable to injury, illness, and infection. Things that usually only carry a mild risk of harm (like teeth whitening) can cause side effects more easily if you’re expecting.

Remember, teeth whitening has not been proven to be more dangerous. But theoretical risks include:

  • Tissue damage. Pregnant people are more sensitive to developing gingivitis thanks to an increase in hormones. Pregnancy gingivitis often causes swelling and inflammation in your gums. Applying high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide to your already-inflamed gums and soft tissues is a recipe for discomfort and short-term damage.
  • Tooth sensitivity. If you’ve ever used whitening products and wondered why your teeth got randomly sensitized to everything, it’s because high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide applied to the teeth can seep through the enamel and irritate the nerves of your teeth. Again, because everything is extra sensitive anyway during pregnancy for many reasons, these effects can be heightened (and super-duper uncomfortable).
  • Unknown effects on baby. We haven’t studied the effects of high amounts of hydrogen peroxide on a developing baby. They could be totally harmless, but we have no way of knowing. Since teeth whitening is an optional, cosmetic procedure, it’s better to play it safe than risk causing harm.

The answer here is no as well, unfortunately. Just because you can buy something over the counter (OTC) doesn’t make it safe for use, especially during pregnancy.

These kits typically contain high levels of hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals, so the risk doesn’t decrease just because you picked it up at a pharmacy.

According to a 2014 review article, although most OTC kits have lower amounts of hydrogen peroxide than the ones used by professional dentist offices, there’s a lot of potential for user error.

In that way, it’s actually safer to sign up for higher concentrations of chemicals applied by a dentist rather than lower concentrations applied on your own! (Though in pregnancy, it’s pretty much always a no-no.)

Whitening kits without peroxide

You may be able to use a nontoxic teeth whitening product during pregnancy — these formulations capitalize on activated charcoal, coconut oil, xylitol, and essential oils to brighten your teeth more naturally. But be wary.

You should still check with your dentist or OB-GYN before going this alternative route; most of these products don’t take a stance on their safety during pregnancy, and some — like Lumineux — specifically recommend asking a doctor first.

Toothpastes, yes: Not all whitening toothpastes contain hydrogen peroxide, only extra scrubbing and cleansing ingredients. Even the ones that do have bleaching agents contain so little it doesn’t pose a risk — plus, you don’t leave them on your teeth for an extended period of time.

Mouthwashes, though, are a little more complicated. Some say mouthwash in general is safe to use during pregnancy, while others caution that because most products contain alcohol, you may want to skip it unless it’s necessary for your individual oral health.

Even though you’re not drinking mouthwash, there could still be a risk after using it for 9 months. You can get around this by using a mouthwash product without alcohol, though.

There isn’t any answer either way as to whether whitening mouthwash, specifically, is safe to use during pregnancy. We recommend asking your doctor or dentist for advice about using any kind of mouthwash, period, when you’re expecting.

Since you probably came here hoping you could whiten your teeth during pregnancy and are now filled with disappointment (sorry!), you might be wondering if there are other ways to brighten up your smile that are actually pregnancy-safe.

The jury is still out on whether these tricks are effective enough to be worth messing around with. The American Dental Association mostly debunks common DIY whitening methods like lemon juice, charcoal, and strawberries, but it may not hurt to give the following remedies a shot.

  1. Pineapple. Ah, good ol’ bromelain. This enzyme found in pineapple can do a lot of holistic good for your body, including possibly removing stains on teeth. (And yes, pineapple during pregnancy is safe.)
  2. Coconut oil. Oil pulling may reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth, which can improve your oral hygiene and clear the way for brighter teeth.
  3. Baking soda. When used gently, baking soda mixed with water can form an abrasive paste that may remove stains on the outside of your teeth and leave them whiter.
  4. Eat raw veggies. We’re not comparing you to your dog… but you know how you keep Fido’s teeth clean by giving him plenty of hard things to chew on? The same principle applies here. By chowing down on crunchy, healthy foods, you can limit the amount of yellowing plaque on your teeth.

The other thing you can do to see brighter teeth is avoid certain foods and drinks that cause staining. Hopefully you’re already abstaining from wine and tobacco, but cutting back on tomatoes, citrus foods, coffee, and black tea can help, too.

Your hormones can impact your oral health in several different, including:

  • Gingivitis. We mentioned this already, but your extra blood flow during pregnancy causes soft tissue to swell and become inflamed, and that includes your gums. Your gums are also more irritated by plaque building up on your teeth.
  • Excess bleeding. See above. Gingivitis can make your gums more prone to bleeding — so can changes to your saliva production and an increase in plaque.
  • Enamel erosion. Exposing your teeth to frequent contact with acidic foods and stomach acid can erode the protective layer of enamel on your teeth. If you have severe or prolonged morning sickness or ongoing acid reflux, all that acid exposure could damage your enamel during pregnancy. You can avoid some of this by rinsing with water after vomiting and waiting to brush your teeth to not brush off extra enamel.
  • Cavities. An increase in cravings for foods with a lot of sugar (including simple carbs) can increase your risk for cavities during pregnancy. Consider a little extra teeth brushing in your routine, at least after enjoying sweets.
  • Pregnancy “tumors” in the mouth. This sounds bad, but totally isn’t! It’s not unusual for pregnant women to develop tiny, completely benign growths called pyogenic granulomas as a result of swelling. They may look like little red raspberries and should go away after delivery. Again, not cancer….just annoying.

Just like every other season of your life, it’s important to brush twice a day and floss once a day during pregnancy, as well as visit your dentist for regular cleanings. Maintaining a healthy oral hygiene routine can ward off some common dental problems — including yellowing.

Many dental procedures are considered safe during pregnancy: You can get a cavity filled, have a tooth pulled, and even have dental X-rays taken while pregnant if deemed necessary.

It may be wise, for your own comfort level, to delay unnecessary dental work until after your baby is born, but if you need to have a dental procedure done, there’s a good chance it’s safe to do so for your own health.

There may be no known risks associated with getting your teeth whitened during pregnancy, but since we don’t know for sure — and your teeth and gums are more vulnerable to problems when you’re expecting — the smart choice is to hold off on any whitening procedures, at home or in your dentist’s office, until after birth.