Can periodontal disease cause premature birth?

Several studies show that there is a link between periodontal disease in pregnant women and premature birth. What is the link and how can you protect yourself?

good oral health in pregnancySeveral epidemiological studies seem to support the theory that there is a link between periodontal disease in pregnant women and premature birth. For instance, one study suggested that pregnant women with periodontal disease are as much as seven times more likely to have babies that are born too early or have a relatively low birth weight.

Why does periodontal disease cause premature birth?

Although the connection between periodontal disease and premature birth seems clearly to be existing, researcher are still not certain about the reasons for this connection.

One theory is that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of the biological fluids that induce labor. In other words, the regulators that are supposed to send the message that birth is to begin are produced elsewhere in the body and the message is sent prematurely. Some of these regulators are called prostaglandins, and they can be produced by different diseases, among which is gum disease.

Another theory is that oral bacteria from the mother is transferred directly into the uterus, causing localized inflammation and adverse pregnancy outcome.

Maintain good oral health during pregnancy

Whatever the reason for the connection between gum disease and preterm birth, it is clear that it is crucial for pregnant mothers to maintain good oral hygiene through the whole pregnancy. Discomfort in connection with the pregnancy such as nausea may at times make it difficult to keep up the good oral hygiene habits from before the pregnancy, but with determination and good support from your dental health professional is it not impossible.

One advice that many pregnant mothers have benefitted from is to buy a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head. If you suffer from nausea, a smaller toothbrush will make it easier to reach the teeth in the back of your mouth without causing too much discomfort. The soft bristles will also be more gentle on your gums, which might be extra sore during your pregnancy.

Some pregnant mothers experience more serious dental health problems during pregnancy, such as bleeding gums, loose teeth and bad breath despite frequent brushing. If you experience such problems, you might benefit from a visit to your dentist or dental hygienist. They can help evaluate the condition of your gums, make you aware of areas that you need to pay more attention to and teach you how to care for your own oral health and thereby the health of your baby.

Smoking and periodontal disease – what’s the connection?

Although dental hygiene is a must in order to avoid periodontal disease, there are some factors that increase the risk. Among these is smoking. Some studies suggest that the risk of developing periodontal disease is up to 11 times higher for smokers than for non-smokers. But why is it so?

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Periodontal disease is a very common problem, which most people will suffer from at some point in their lives. Although dental hygiene is a must in order to avoid periodontal disease, there are some factors that increase the risk. Among these is smoking. Some studies suggest that the risk of developing periodontal disease is up to 11 times higher for smokers than for non-smokers. But why is it so?

Smoking and your gums

One reason that smoking is a risk factor for developing periodontal disease is that nicotine makes the blood vessels in the gum tissue constrict, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the area. Without oxygen for the cells, the body’s ability to defend itself against bacterial infection is reduced.

Nicotine and cytokines

Another effect of nicotine is that it triggers an over-production of immune factors called cytokines, which can be harmful to cells and tissue. When nicotine is combined with certain oral bacteria, the cytokines multiply and become even more harmful to the oral tissues.

Makes periodontal disease ‘invisible’

Another tricky thing about smoking and periodontal disease is that the effect of nicotine can make the periodontal disease ‘invisible’. The constriction of the blood vessels results in less bleeding from the gums. Since bleeding gums are normally an indicator for periodontal disease, the disease might not be discovered as easily. It is therefore vital that your dentist makes a thorough examination of your gums and measures your gingival pockets regularly in order to get an exact idea of your periodontal status.

Other kinds of smoking

The impact of cigar, pipe and waterpipe smoking is largely the same as that of cigarette smoking. Passive smoking is also thought to increase the risk of periodontal disease, although not by as much as ‘active’ smoking. Since nicotine gum also constricts the blood vessels in the mouth, there has been speculations that nicotine gum might also be a risk factor in developing periodontal disease. No studies have confirmed these speculations yet, though.

Effect on treatment prognosis

Apart from being a risk factor for developing periodontal disease, smoking also negatively affects the prognosis of treating periodontal disease. Because of the effect of the nicotine, the gum tissues do not heal as well for smoker as for non-smokers. Many dentists and dental hygienists will therefore offer advice on how to quit smoking as part of their treatment plan for periodontal disease.