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Gum Disease Causes Low Birth Weight in Infants

Aug 17, 2007
One in every 14 babies in the United States is born with a low birth weight, under 5 pounds 8 ounces. Most of these babies are either born prematurely or are part of a multiple birth. Of the infants born full term, it is known that there are contributing factors to a low birth weight:

1) Alcohol
2) Smoking
3) Inadequate prenatal care
4) Poor nutrition
5) Lack of folic acid in the diet

However, studies by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry revealed in May that women with gum (periodontal) disease may be up to seven times more likely to deliver a pre-term, low birth weight baby. Compare that with the effects of alcohol and smoking, which are said to increase the odds of a low birth weight baby by three times.

Gum disease and Moms-to-be:

How can your gums affect the weight of the fetus? Well, it has to do with the fact that periodontal disease causes bacterial infections. Pregnant women should avoid any situation where they can obtain an infection, knowing that there may be repercussions on their health or that of the unborn baby. It is becoming clear that an infection of gum tissues is no exception.

Women who have experienced problems with their oral health are most likely to experience gingivitis (the earliest form of gum disease) during pregnancy. Even tissues in the mouth undergo changes during pregnancy. Gingivitis usually appears in the second or third month and can last all the way through the eighth month of pregnancy. If your gums bleed when you brush and floss, this could indicate that you have gingivitis.

If a dental professional does not treat these red and swollen gums, the condition can deteriorate to periodontal disease, which can attack the gums and bone surrounding the teeth, eventually leading to tooth loss. The natural space between your teeth and gums become infected. Pockets can form and this is where bacteria thrive. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believe that toxins are then released into the bloodstream and the body reacts by producing chemicals that cause premature labor.

Will I know if I have gum disease?

You may not normally experience pain with gingivitis or periodontal disease, but there are other symptoms you should watch out for: (1)Red, swollen or tender gums; (2)Bleeding gums when you brush or floss; (3)Gums that seem to have pulled away from the teeth; (4)Loose teeth; (5)A change in your bite; (6)Pus between teeth and gums; and (7)Persistent bad breath.

More research will be done to determine how pregnant women with periodontal disease should be treated. For now, we suggest having your oral health checked before you consider pregnancy, or as soon as possible after you know you are pregnant. Because gum disease is not usually painful, it can be easily ignored, especially when you are dealing with all the other physical and emotional effects of pregnancy. Do not ignore the signs. If you have any concerns about gum disease before or during pregnancy, contact our office or your physician.
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