Oral & Vision Health Blog

The Link between Oral Health and Preterm Birth

Staying healthy for you and your baby is, of course, a top priority when you’re pregnant. But, being healthy during pregnancy means more than simply eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones. You need to have your overall health and all that it involves in mind. This includes your oral health.

But what do your teeth have to do with pregnancy? Well, did you know that there is a link between oral health and preterm birth?

An article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians  (AAFP) explains the difficulty in pinpointing exactly which oral factors affect preterm birth: 

Studying the direct effect of any risk factor on the outcomes of preterm birth and low birth weight is extremely difficult because of the many confounding variables that may affect the same outcome.

However, the article also emphasizes the importance of studying the facts related to pregnancy and preterm birth: 

Preterm birth is the leading cause of neonatal morbidity in the United States, costing approximately $26.2 billion per year.

The biggest cause for concern regarding oral disease and pregnant women is periodontitis (gum disease). This is the inflammation of the tissues that surround and support the teeth. Periodontitis affects about 30 percent of woman who are of child-bearing age. However, not every woman diagnosed with gum disease will have pregnancy complications because of it.

When a pregnant woman has this condition, the toxins in the inflamed tissues are eventually released and absorbed into the body. Tests show that the amniotic fluid of women with periodontitis who have also gone into early (preterm) labor contains the same toxins found in the gums. So, gum disease is believed to be a factor affecting women who have gone into preterm labor. 

In addition to gum disease, the AAFP says several other oral diseases can impact pregnant women, who can be at higher risk for such conditions as:

  • Oral lesions or sores—caused by increased stomach acid due to morning sickness
  • Dental caries, which can result in tooth decay
  • Oral tumors, which can be the result of increased hormones during pregnancy
  • Loose teeth due to gum disease that can worsen during pregnancy
  • Gingivitis—severe inflammation of the gums

Most pregnant women won’t be affected by oral diseases. However, those who are should be aware of the consequences—and also the benefits of good oral hygiene. Regular flossing and brushing, as well as cleanings throughout pregnancy, is the best strategy. This will help keep oral problems to a minimum while allowing for timely treatment of any difficulties that do arise. 

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