Pregnancy and Oral Health
Gum disease during pregnancy can cause still birth
Gum disease is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the gum tissue and other structures supporting the teeth. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to tooth loss. It may also affect general health because it may interfere with other systems of the body. Like many diseases, gum disease too can be passed on from one person to another easily, making children vulnerable if their parents and caregivers suffer from it. If an expectant mother suffers from gum disease, the disease causing bacteria can also be passed on to a baby in the womb through the placenta. This is possible because the placenta is an immune-suppressed organ compared to others. Due to this quality, the placenta is able to accept the baby as part of the mother’s body without her immune system attacking the baby as an invader, similar to how the body attacks disease causing organism entering the body.
1. But how relevant is this to us and our families? Well, on one hand, the American Pregnancy Association states that there are approximately 6 million pregnancies every year throughout the United States which result in just over 4 million live births; the rest—almost 2 million—are pregnancy losses.
2. On the other hand, the prevalence of gum disease in the US may have been grossly understated and more than one in five American adults could be having some degree of gum disease, even though they don’t know it.
3. For a long time, the main source of statistics on oral health in the United States depended on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which shows that 8.52 percent of adults age 20 to 64 suffer from gum disease. And almost one in 20 adults in this age group—5.08 percent—are affected to severe or moderate levels.
4 However, recently published research from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Periodontology suggest that more American adults may have gum disease; and that previous estimates may have been underestimated by as much as 50 percent.
5. We can easily conclude that each year there will be many pregnant women who have gum disease. But how many of them know that their untreated gum disease can harm the baby in the womb? Although dentists have known for a long time and warned expectant mothers that untreated gum disease can result in premature births and undersized babies, until a recent case of a full-term baby being still born due to gum disease passed on by the mother, there was no direct evidence that gum disease could cause still births. But now we know because at least one such case has happened. And this phenomenon has been observed previously in laboratory mice.
But not all should be gloom and doom because gum disease can ordinarily be prevented with daily brushing and flossing. Flossing at least once daily has been known to greatly reduce the amount of gum disease-causing bacteria found in the mouth. It is also desirable to visit a periodontologist at least once a year. But if you are contemplating pregnancy, or are already pregnant, it is vital that you visit your regular dentist for a routine checkup. If needed, your dentist may recommend that you visit a periodontologist.
Prevention is always better than cure. And if daily brushing and flossing can lead way to a healthy newborn, what expectant mother would willingly neglect it?