Maintaining good oral health may reduce premature birth risk, study finds

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Maintaining good oral health may reduce premature birth risk, study finds


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A study out of Australia has found that if an expectant mother's gingivitis is treated by a dental professional, the risk of her baby being born prematurely will be significantly reduced. (Image: Nicoleta Ionescu/Shutterstock)
Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International

By Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International

Mon. 22. November 2021


SYDNEY, Australia: For some women, hormonal changes that occur owing to pregnancy can lead to oral health problems such as dental caries and periodontal disease. A newly published study out of Australia has sought to investigate whether the treatment of gingivitis in expectant mothers can affect pregnancy outcomes. The researchers found that it could help to reduce the likelihood of preterm birth.

According to the research team—who are all affiliated with the University of Sydney—epidemiological data states that more than 15% of babies worldwide are born having low birth weight, and nearly 11% are born prematurely. Previous research has shown that inflammatory responses during pregnancy can lead to adverse outcomes including higher rates of infant morbidity and mortality. One potential source for this inflammation is periodontal disease, including gingivitis. Unlike periodontitis, gingivitis is considered to be reversible, and so the researchers investigated whether its treatment, paired with regular dental check-ups and cleaning, could decrease negative pregnancy outcomes.

“Due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy, pregnant women are susceptible to gingivitis, with 60% to 75% affected,” Prof. Jörg Eberhard, chair of lifespan oral health at the University of Sydney School of Dentistry and a co-author of the study, said in a press release.

He added: “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.”

Treatment can limit birth complications

To investigate whether treatment of gingivitis during pregnancy affects pregnancy outcomes, the researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of three randomised clinical trials having 1,031 participants in total. Their review of the data found that, left untreated, any level of inflammation in the oral cavity had a deleterious effect on pregnancy outcomes. Conversely, if an expectant mother’s gingivitis was treated, the risk of her baby being born prematurely was reduced by approximately 44%. The treatment was also associated with a birth weight increased by an average of 100 gm.

“These findings add to the new focus on the impact of good oral health on general health, particularly for pregnant women,” commented Dr Quynh-Anh Le, lead author of the study and a postgraduate student at the School of Dentistry.

“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,” she said.

“A dental check-up and clean every six months should prevent and treat any gum inflammation,” Prof. Eberhard noted, adding in an interview with Nine News that these services should be provided free of charge for pregnant women.

The study, titled “Does treatment of gingivitis during pregnancy improve pregnancy outcomes? A systematic review and meta-analysis”, was published online on 7 January 2021 in the Journal of Oral Health and Preventive Dentistry.

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