Healthy Mouth, Healthy Baby?

May 09 00:00 2001 Print This Article

Most expectant mothers will do whatever they can to safeguard the health of their unborn child. For example, many will stop drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol and quit smoking. But these women may be surprised to find that something as simple as brushing and flossing their teeth can help reduce the risk of delivering a baby of low birth weight.

"We have discovered that bacteria that can cause gum disease may be associated with low birth weight babies," said Steven Offenbacher, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.M.Sc.

Emerging Research Suggests Links Between Periodontal Disease and Low Birth Weight Babies

At a recent educational briefing, Dr. Offenbacher, professor in the Department of Periodontics at the University of North Carolina, discussed how an infection in the mouth might interfere with the development of an unborn child. In fact, says Offenbacher, a woman with periodontal disease is seven times more likely to deliver a premature baby of low birth weight.

According to Dr. Offenbacher, the bacteria from the oral infection may release toxins into the mother's bloodstream and reach the placenta, interfering with fetal growth and development. In addition, the infection may stimulate the woman's body to produce inflammatory chemicals potentially causing the woman's cervix to dilate and the uterus to contract.

Offenbacher's study suggests that periodontal infection might be responsible for as many as 18 percent of the 250,000 premature babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) that are born in the United States each year. These infants account for 5 million neonatal care unit days per year, at an annual cost of more than $5 billion.

Offenbacher notes that the results of these studies are preliminary and additional studies need to be conducted. In the meantime, pregnant women and their obstetricians should be aware of these findings and should be as concerned about periodontal infection as they would any other infection that can affect the health of mother and baby.

Researchers also continue to examine the possible link between periodontal disease and other conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis. "Establishing periodontal disease as a risk factor for certain conditions will take on new meaning for oral health as it relates to overall health," said Dennis Mangan, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

What might help consumers to avoid potential health complications associated with gum disease is an easy oral hygiene routine -- flossing and brushing your teeth daily and seeing your dentist regularly. Now more than ever, it's clear that good oral hygiene may be a key ingredient to overall good health.

Source: ARA

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