Periodontal Disease and Preterm Low Birth Weight Babies
The American Dental Association defines periodontal disease as “an infection of the tissues that support your teeth … attack just below the gum line … where they cause the attachment of the tooth and its supporting tissues to break down.” It is sometimes referred to a “silent” disease because many people don’t even realize they have it until it’s in an advanced stage, where treatment is more involved, and the disease very difficult to reverse.
Studies have shown that a pregnant woman with periodontal disease is 7.5 times more at risk for delivering a preterm low-birth-weight baby.
Definition of Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight
Pre-term birth is defined as childbirth occurring at less than 37 completed weeks (WHO) and a baby is considered to be of low birth weight if he/she weighs less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 g) (Canadian Dental Association). Approximately 10.6 percent of all births in the United States are considered preterm. “Children who are born prematurely have higher rates of cerebral palsy, sensory deficits, learning disabilities and respiratory illnesses compared with children born at term” (WHO) and these infants are 40 times more likely to die before their first birthday (CDA).
In terms of costs to society, it is estimated that “in 2005 the costs to the United States of America alone in terms of medical and educational expenditure and lost productivity associated with preterm birth were more than US$ 26.2 billion” (WHO).
The Role of Periodontal Disease and Treatment
It is also estimated that the presence of periodontal disease was a factor in 30 to 50 percent of all preterm low-birth-weight deliveries, higher than any other potential risk factor include smoking (CDA).
Studies are still being done to find out exactly how and why periodontal bacteria appears to have the effect it does. Researchers suspect that the prevalence of bacteria may affect the release of hormones responsible for starting contractions or rupturing membranes, though there has been no direct causal link found to date.
The only thing for sure is the definite increased risk to those pregnant mothers who have the disease.
It would seem reasonable to assume that, if pregnant moms sought dental treatment for their periodontal issues that developed over the term of the pregnancy, this would decrease the risk. Unfortunately, several studies reported on in The New England Journal of Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Journal of Periodontology have found that there was no decrease of risk of preterm low-birth-weight deliveries with appropriate and thorough dental cleanings, which puzzles researchers and dental professionals alike.
There is no scientific data, thus far, to support the belief that getting regular dental treatment, particularly regarding scenarios of pregnancy-related periodontal disease, helps reduce the risk of preterm low-birth-weight babies. However, there are other overall health advantages to the mother, not to mention the more obvious oral health advantages.
It does raise the concern, though, for women who are trying to become pregnant or wish to become mothers in the future to maintain good oral hygiene practices and address any pre-existing periodontal issues before becoming pregnant. This helps to give your baby the best chances of being carried to term.
It is also imperative for pregnant moms to keep on top of their oral hygiene and overall oral health throughout their pregnancy to reduce the chances of gingivitis and severe periodontal disease from developing. This is of particular importance for those women who have a family history of periodontal disease, as studies have shown that this can run in families.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
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