Healthy Gums Throughout Pregnancy and Birth
Gum Disease and Pregnancy Problems
It has been widely known for quite some time that certain risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol and drug use, contribute to mothers having babies that are born prematurely at a low birth weight.
Evidence is now mounting that suggests a new risk factor periodontal disease. Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small.
Additional research is needed to confirm how periodontal disease may affect pregnancy outcomes, but it appears that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Furthermore, data suggests that women whose periodontal condition worsens during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby.
All infections are cause for concern among pregnant women, because they pose a risk to the health of the baby. The American Academy of Periodontology recommends that all women considering pregnancy have a periodontal evaluation.
How does pregnancy affect your teeth and gums?
About half of women experience pregnancy induced gingivitis. This condition can be uncomfortable and may cause swelling, bleeding, redness or tenderness in the gum tissue. Conversely, a more advanced oral health condition called periodontal disease (a serious gum infection that destroys attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold teeth in the mouth) may affect the health of your baby.
Studies have shown a relationship between periodontal disease and preterm, low birth-weight babies. In fact, pregnant women with periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that’s born too early and too small. The likely culprit is a labor-inducing chemical found in oral bacteria called prostaglandin. Very high levels of prostaglandin are found in women with severe cases of periodontal disease.
If you’re diagnosed with periodontal disease, your periodontist might recommend a common non-surgical procedure called scaling and root planing (deep cleaning). During this procedure, your tooth-root surfaces are thoroughly cleaned to remove plaque and tartar from deep periodontal pockets and the root is smoothed to remove bacterial toxins. Research suggests that scaling and root planing may reduce the risk of preterm births in pregnant women with periodontal disease. The added bonus is that the procedure should alleviate many of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with pregnancy gingivitis, such as swelling and tenderness of the gums.
As you make your way through the pregnancy-related to-dos, remember to check off a visit to the dentist or periodontist. This baby step has great benefit for you and your unborn child.
According to the March of Dimes, premature births have soared to become the number one obstetric problem in the United States. Many premature babies come into the world with serious health problems. Those who survive may suffer life-long consequences, from cerebral palsy and mental retardation to blindness.
The March of Dimes has launched a $75 million, five-year campaign to raise public awareness and reduce rates of preterm birth, and to increase research to find the cause. Until all of the answers are in, the March of Dimes recommends the following to reduce the risk and/or effects of a premature birth:
- Consume a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid before conceiving and in the early months of pregnancy.
- Stop smoking.
- Stop drinking and/or using illicit drugs, or prescription or over-the-counter drugs (including herbal preparations) not prescribed by a doctor aware of the pregnancy.
- Once pregnant, get early regular prenatal care, eat a balanced diet with enough calories (usually about 300 more than a woman normally eats), and gain enough weight (25 to 35 pounds is usually recommended).
- Talk to your doctor about signs of premature labor, and what to do if you show any of the warning signs.
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