KIDS
October 15, 2010

Moms-To-Be: Care for Your Gums!

Believe it or not, treating gum disease while you’re pregnant may reduce the odds of having a premature baby.

Pregnant women are at greater odds for developing periodontal or gum disease, where bacteria build up around the gum line and leave the gum infected and inflamed. This is thought to be due to the hormonal changes that pregnant women undergo, but little research has looked at the connection between the gums and obstetric health.

For women who had "successful" treatments, meaning they had reduced inflammation and less loosening of the teeth, only 8% had preterm babies. The odds of giving birth prematurely were 62% for women who had "unsuccessful" treatments, a significant increase.

Recent studies have found that gum disease affects much more than just the gums, and may actually be linked to the health of other organs like the heart. The current study examined whether gum disease in pregnant women may also be linked to their likelihood of giving birth prematurely.

In the new study, Marjorie Jeffcoat and her team at the University of Pennsylvania followed 322 women who had been diagnosed with gum disease. Half of the women received treatments that included scaling and root planing (SRP), which involves carefully cleaning the gums both above and below the gum line; they also received oral hygiene instruction. The other half of the women received only oral hygiene instruction.

At the end of 20 weeks, 46% of the women in the SRP group had premature babies, while 52% of women in the control groups gave birth prematurely. This difference was not statistically significant, meaning that it could have been due to chance.

But when the researchers looked at how successful the SRP treatments were, what they found was quite striking. For women who had "successful" treatments, meaning they had reduced inflammation and less loosening of the teeth, only 8% had preterm babies. The odds of giving birth prematurely were 62% for women who had "unsuccessful" treatments, a significant increase.

Jeffcoat says that her "research group is very excited about these results. First these data show that pregnant women can receive periodontal treatment safely in order to improve their oral health. Second in a high risk group of pregnant women, such as those patients who participated in this study, successful periodontal treatment, when rendered as an adjunct to conventional obstetric care, may reduce the incidence of preterm birth. Future papers will address the role of antimicrobial mouth rinses in reducing the incidence of preterm birth."

In the meantime, if you are pregnant or plan on becoming so, talk to your dentist about the health of your teeth and gums. He or she can tell you about the best options for treating and preventing periodontal disease, which may improve not only your own overall health, but possibly the health of your baby as well.

This research was published in the September 14, 2010 issue of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

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