Research has shown that periodontal disease in expectant mothers actually exposes their unborn child to many different risks, particularly if they also happen to be diabetes sufferers.
Periodontal disease generally begins with a bacterial infection in the gum (gingival) tissue that progressively destroys the tissue and the underlying bone. If left untreated, the bacterial infection causes an inflammatory reaction in the body, which can significantly deepen the gum pockets (space between the teeth and gums) and force the gum and jawbone to recede. Eventually, the progressive nature of periodontal disease causes teeth to become loose and unstable and, eventually, fall out.
Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes that increase the risk of the expectant mother to develop gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissue) and periodontal disease. In many studies, these oral problems have been linked to preeclampsia, low birth weight of the baby, and premature birth. Expectant women should seek immediate treatment for periodontal disease in order to reduce the risk of pre-natal and post-natal complications.
Reasons for the Connection
There are many different reasons why periodontal disease may affect the health of the mother and her unborn child:
Prostaglandin – Periodontal disease appears to elevate levels of prostaglandin in mothers who are suffering from the more advanced forms of this condition. Prostaglandin is a labor-inducing compound found in one of the oral bacteria strains associated with periodontitis. Elevated levels of prostaglandin can cause the mother to give birth prematurely and deliver a baby with a low birth weight.
C-reactive protein (CRP) – This protein, which has been previously linked to heart disease, has now been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preeclampsia and premature birth. Periodontal infections elevate C-reactive protein levels and amplify the body’s natural inflammatory response. Periodontal bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause the liver to produce CRP, which leads to inflamed arteries as well as possible blood clots. These inflammatory effects can then lead to blocked arteries, causing strokes or heart attacks.
Bacteria spread – The bacteria which colonize in the gum pockets can readily travel through the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body. In pregnant women, research has found that oral bacteria and associated pathogens have colonized in the internal mammary glands and coronary arteries.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There are many safe, non-surgical treatment options available for pregnant women. It is of paramount importance to halt the progression of periodontal disease in order to increase the chances of a safe and healthy delivery.
Initially, your dentist will assess the exact condition of your gums and jawbone in order to make a precise diagnosis. Scaling and root planing are two common non-surgical procedures used to rid the tooth-root surfaces of calculus (tartar) and remove bacterial toxins from the gum pockets.
With treatment, the risks of pregnancy complications caused by periodontal disease are reduced by as much as 50%, and these treatments will alleviate many unpleasant and harmful effects associated with gingivitis and periodontal infection.
Dr. Husen can also provide education and recommendations to pregnant women about effective home care that can reduce risks that may affect her and/or her child’s health. Risks of periodontal disease can be vastly reduced by proper home care, smoking cessation, dietary changes, and the ingestion of supplementary vitamins.
If you have any questions or concerns about periodontal disease and its affect on pregnancy, please contact our practice.