Pregnant Women – Beware Oral Bacteria

Posted on Oct 20, 2015 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

I was watching a health segment on a morning news program recently. The topic of that day surrounded things that women should avoid during pregnancy, such as soft cheeses, smoking and alcohol. I am pleased that modern medicine has created more awareness when it comes to things that have the potential to be harmful to a developing fetus.

What was disappointing, as a Periodontist, is how the hazards of periodontal (gum) disease have not been given the same ‘red flag’ for its potential harm to unborn babies. Numerous studies have shown that women with gum disease may be at risk for pre-term babies or having a low-birth weight baby.

Babies born with a birth weight of less than 5.5 lbs. have a higher risk of long-term health problems. These include delayed motor skills, social development and learning disabilities. Additionally, a baby born at least 3 weeks earlier than its due date can have similar complications as well as respiratory problems, vision and hearing loss and digestive problems.

Periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition that stems from oral bacteria. The bacteria attack gum tissue and bone structure that supports teeth. Periodontal disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss and is linked to other serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), medical and dental communities agree that maintaining good periodontal health during pregnancy is important. If a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant is not current on her dental examinations and cleanings, this should be a high priority.
This is also supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who now encourage pregnant women to achieve and maintain good oral health. This includes regular dental care, including dental cleanings, during pregnancy. If signs of gum disease are present, non-surgical periodontal therapy is safe for pregnant women and can improve gum health.

Typical signs of periodontal disease include gums that are tender, red or swollen. Other symptoms include gums that bleed when brushing, gums that have pulled away from one or more teeth, frequent bad breath and loose teeth. These signs should create a sense of urgency for anyone who experiences them, however, these are especially important during pregnancy.

Through all phases of your pregnancy, it is necessary to maintain a thorough oral hygiene regimen. This includes twice-daily brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups. If you are behind on your dental visits, seeing a Periodontist can help to decrease the chance of adverse pregnancy complications. This will help to reduce your own risk for health problems as well as enjoy a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby.

You may want to learn more about gum health as it relates to pregnancy at the web site of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP).

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