Treating pregnancy gingivitis could reduce preterm birth risk by 50%
Around 20 million infants worldwide — 15.5% of all deliveries — are born with low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) and almost 11% of all live births are born premature, ie, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Now, a University of Sydney study has found that treating gingivitis (gum inflammation that causes bleeding gums) during pregnancy reduced the risk of a baby being born preterm by around 50%. The same treatment increased the birth weight in babies born with low birth weight by around 100 grams.
The study involved more than 1000 patients from three randomised control trials, with the positive effect of good dental health shown in the pregnancy outcomes of more than 600 women.
“Due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy, pregnant women are susceptible to gingivitis, with 60 to 75 percent affected, so it’s very common,” said senior author Professor Joerg Eberhard, Chair of Lifespan Oral Health in the University of Sydney School of Dentistry and the Charles Perkins Centre.
“Oral infection can have systemic effects in the body. Gingivitis releases inflammatory markers and bacteria into the systemic bloodstream which may reach the placenta and induce poor pregnancy outcomes such as preterm delivery.
“Our review found that surprisingly even mild inflammation in the oral cavity, which also includes the gums, can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes including babies born premature or with low birth weight, so it is essential to manage this risk factor.”
“The good news is treatment for gingivitis is very easy to perform and is inexpensive and accessible. A dental check-up and clean every six months should prevent and treat any gum inflammation.”
The researchers are not suggesting that gum inflammation is the single factor for preterm birth and low birth weight, but that more vigilance is needed for gum health in addition to other prenatal care.
Lead author Quynh Anh Le from Sydney Dental School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, said: “These findings add to the new focus on the impact of good oral health on general health, particularly for pregnant women.
“It’s important that women and health providers around the world know that taking good care of oral hygiene is not just for the health of the mother but also for her baby.
“Regular dental checks, dental cleaning and treatment of any gum inflammation should be a vital part of pregnancy care for all women.”
Professor Eberhard added: “The treatment of gingivitis in pregnant women to improve birth outcomes is a global public health issue, especially when considering the high frequency of gingivitis in pregnant women and the ease of gingivitis treatment compared to the treatment of periodontitis (gum infection) if it is left untreated.
“All pregnant women should be encouraged to have dental check-ups and gingivitis treatment if necessary.
“Dental services for pregnant women should be provided free of charge to encourage mothers to get regular checks during their pregnancy to prevent any gum inflammation.”
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