Women who are pregnant may be at an increased risk of pathological dental conditions, such as periodontitis. This is associated with complications for both the mother and baby, including the potential for the mother to lose teeth as well as an increased risk of preterm birth or low birth weight for the baby.
Periodontal probe, held by dental hygienist. Image Credit: zlikovec / Shutterstock
Increased Risk of Periodontitis in Women
Periodontitis is an inflammatory condition caused by bacteria that invade the connective tissues surrounding the teeth, such as the gums and bones. In the early stages of the disease, it can cause symptoms such as tender, red and swollen gums. In severe cases, the gums can pull away from the teeth and the connective tissues loosen, which can cause the teeth to fall out.
It has been suggested that the hormonal changes during pregnancy, particularly the marked increases in estrogen and progesterone, may be in part responsible for the increased risk of developing periodontitis. Other possible factors that may be involved in the etiology include changes in blood flow to the gums.
Periodontitis - Image Credit: Elen Bushe / Shutterstock
Fetal Complications in Pregnancy Linked to Periodontitis
Some research has suggested that pregnant women who are affected by periodontitis may be at an increased risk of certain obstetric complications, such as having a preterm baby or one with a low birth weight.
This is a concern because babies with a birth weight less than 5.5 pounds may be more likely to suffer from long-term disabilities such as delayed motor skill development, poor social growth and learning disabilities. Preterm babies have similar risks, in addition to respiratory problems, loss of vision or hearing and digestive tract problems.
Although it has been observed that babies born to mothers with periodontitis are more likely to be born prematurely or with a low birth weight, it is not clear why this is the case. The results have been normalized for other factors, such as lifestyle and dietary factors, but there appears to be an independent association between periodontitis and the risk of low birth weight and premature birth.
Recommendations for Pregnant Women
It is particularly important for pregnant women to take good care of their teeth while they are pregnant to help prevent problems with dental health, such as periodontitis.
Firstly, self-care of the teeth is crucial. Women who are pregnant should be encouraged to brush their teeth at least twice a day and to floss daily. This helps to remove plaque from around the teeth and gums on a regular basis so that it is difficult for a bacterial infection to take hold. The use of a mouthwash may also be useful in some cases.
Dental care during pregnancy is generally considered to be safe. This can play a key role in the removal of plaque and bacteria that may cause an infection and possible complications for the woman and her child. Regular dental appointments for cleaning of teeth at intervals throughout pregnancy are recommended for this reason.
However, some dental procedures used in the treatment of periodontitis, such as scaling and root planing, may cause problems at some points during pregnancy. These procedures are usually best performed between 14 and 20 weeks of gestational age.
Reviewed by Liji Thomas, MD