Low birth weight and premature babies

A healthy pregnancy depends upon a healthy mom-to-be.  During pregnancy, eliminating habits like smoking and drinking, following a healthy diet, and seeking prenatal care are widely accepted measures to ensure your baby’s health.  What some women may not know is that periodontal health also plays a key role in a healthy pregnancy.

Research suggests that pregnant women with gum disease are at higher risk for pre-term and low birth weight deliveries.  Preterm and low birth weight babies are at significantly higher risk for health complications including neurological conditions, developmental and learning disabilities, respiratory problems, and infection.  

Several studies have demonstrated the correlation between periodontal disease and preterm, low birth rate delivery. Studies out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry found that women with gum disease may by up to seven times more likely to deliver a pre-term, low birth weight baby, whereas alcohol consumption and smoking posed only a three-fold increased risk.  Similarly, in 2007, the Journal of Periodontology published a study in which 79% of sampled expectant mothers who did not receive treatment for periodontal disease delivered preterm, low birth weight babies.

While further research is necessary to fully understand the impact of gum disease on pregnancy, healthcare professionals and dentists agree that any active infection in a mother’s body is a threat to fetal health.  Gum disease a living, active infection in your mouth for which immediate treatment is essential in preventing complications to your pregnancy.


Gum Disease and Pregnancy

Gum disease is an active infection living inside your mouth.  Whether it is a pre-existing condition or if it develops during pregnancy, the further this infection is allowed to advance, the greater the risks it poses to the fetus.  

Women with a history of oral health problems are at higher risk for developing early stages of gum disease, known as gingivitis, during pregnancy.  If not already present, gingivitis will usually begin to develop in the second or third month and can persist and advance throughout the pregnancy if left untreated.  Gingivitis occurs as plaque and bacteria collect around the gum line and in between teeth, making gums red and swollen. Gums that bleed during regular flossing or brushing are indicators of developing gingivitis.  This is a sign that you should seek treatment immediately. 

If left untreated, the early stages of gum disease will advance to periodontitis. This is bacterial infection affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth, causing them to eventually loosen and potentially leading to tooth loss.  The natural spaces between your teeth collect bacteria which form pockets in the gums.  As bacteria accumulate in these pockets, causing them to deepen and expand, the bacteria gain access to the bloodstream.  

Once released into the body, research indicates that the bacteria trigger the production of chemicals that potentially induce premature labor.  One study also found periodontal pathogens (bacteria and other toxins associated with periodontal disease) in the amniotic fluid of women who were at risk for preterm labor.  This reaffirms hypotheses that such toxins could have a direct connection to increased risk for preterm delivery; however, continued investigation into these interactions is needed.

Until science provides better understanding of the relationship between periodontal disease and preterm, low birth weight delivery, the American Academy of Periodontology emphasizes the importance of daily brushing and flossing throughout pregnancy along with regular visits to your dentist prior to and during pregnancy.


How do I know if I have gum disease?

The following are indicators that you may be suffering from gum disease. Make an appointment with your dentist immediately if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:
  • • Red, swollen, or tender gums
  • • Bleeding gums during regular brushing or flossing
  • • Gums that appear to have pulled away or receded from teeth
  • • Loose teeth
  • • Change in bite
  • • Pus emitting from between teeth or at gum line
  • • Persistent bad breath

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