Most pregnant women know that to keep a growing baby healthy, they must lay off alcohol and cigarettes and eat a balanced diet. Now, researchers say, they should add carefully caring for their teeth and gums to that list. A new study shows that women with serious cases of periodontal disease are far more likely to give birth early.
Although the results are preliminary, researchers are already recommending that pregnant women have their dentists screen for the condition, and that women who suffer from periodontal disease have their dentists carefully clean and disinfect the space between their teeth and gums.
Babies born prematurely face a dramatically increased risk of cerebral palsy, visual problems, and other disorders and account for more than half of all health care costs for newborns. And one in every four women who give birth prematurely has no known risk factors
Past studies have found that pregnant women who suffer from periodontal disease are up to seven times as likely to give birth to premature, low-birth-weight babies.
Periodontal disease begins with plaque, which coats the teeth with a bacterial film. About 22% of pregnant women have periodontal disease, which occurs when a bacterial infection between the teeth and gums loosens and separates the gum from its moorings. That creates a pocket for more bacteria to grow.
Left untreated, the infection can spin out of control, causing tooth loss. The infections also require the body to mount a major battle, as the surface area of such infections can be as large as the palm of the hand.
It is the body’s response to the infection that could cut a pregnancy short. In response to bacterial attack, the body produces molecules called cytokines and prostaglandins that help it battle the invading bugs. But the same molecules can also tell the uterus that it’s time to deliver.In the meantime, it is recommended that pregnant women brush, floss, and see their dentists regularly. For pregnant women with periodontal disease, it is recommended that dentists conduct a procedure called scaling and root planing, which cleans out the pocket between the tooth and gum, during the second trimester.
- A new study shows that women with serious cases of periodontal disease are far more likely to deliver premature babies.
- Periodontal disease occurs when a bacterial infection between the teeth separates the teeth from the gums, creating a pocket for more bacteria to grow.
- The molecules that the body uses to attack the infection are the same ones that can tell the uterus it’s time to deliver; this may explain why the disease is associated with premature delivery.