The Correlation Between Periodontal Disease and Premature Infants

Mothers and babies have an undeniable bond, even before birth. But, some studies suggest that the dental health of the mother has a way bigger role in the health, even the whole life, of her child. In this article, we explore that link.


What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is any disease that affects the periodontium, which is the apparatus surrounding the tooth structure, and composed mainly of the gums, the bone and the ligament linking the tooth to the bone, named the periodontal ligament.

Periodontal diseases cover a wide range, starting from simple inflammation of the gums (also known as gingivitis), to a more severe and infectious form (also known as periodontitis), and can be severe enough to cause pain and mobility of the affected teeth.

What is meant by 'premature' infants?

Premature babies are tiny!

Premature babies are tiny!

Premature babies are those that were born before the full pregnancy period of 40 weeks is completed. This condition accounts for nearly 10% of all births. 

What are some of the problems associated with preterm birth?

As you can imagine, delivering a baby before the full term poses significant problems to the mother as well as the infant. The mother, of course, suffers the pains and challenges associated with preterm labor, which is much more painful and usually accompanied by bleeding. The infant is at much greater risk when their weight is significantly lower than normal. At less than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds, they are classified as a low birth weight infant.

Studies have shown that preterm low birth weight is the highest cause of neonatal mortality--about two-thirds of the mortality cases.  In addition, low birth weight can cause other long-term problems such as lung disease, learning disability and even cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

How are preterm birth and periodontal diseases associated?

Pregnancy takes its toll on the mother’s body by drawing all the nutrients from various areas of her body to give to the growing baby.  Some of these nutrients are those that are usually associated with the gums and periodontium, and that is why most pregnancies are accompanied by a mild form of periodontal disease, namely gum inflammation known as pregnancy gingivitis. 

With proper care and maintenance, pregnancy gingivitis usually subsides on its own after delivery and poses no threats to the mother or the infant. However, if the mother fails to take care of her teeth and mouth during pregnancy, this simple inflammation can turn into a more dangerous type of periodontal disease, called pregnancy periodontitis.

The link between periodontitis and preterm birth is currently under the microscope, and a lot of studies are focusing their interests on the matter and have found that:

  • Periodontitis stimulates the body to secrete chemicals that induce labor.
  • Mothers with existing periodontitis before bearing children have a greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies.
  • Treatment and control of the mother’s periodontitis significantly decrease the risk of preterm labor.

How can I guard my baby against preterm birth?

Although the studies are currently ongoing and still inconclusive of the direct relation between periodontitis and premature infants, it is still considered a significant risk factor. Most health authorities (dental and obstetric) recommend that women of childbearing age as well as pregnant women pay meticulous attention and care for their oral health. This includes brushing and flossing daily, the use of antiseptic mouthwashes as recommended by the dentist, and frequent dental visits and check-ups.

A simple visit to your dentist may be all you need to avoid a dangerous and potentially fatal condition for yourself and your child.

Gratuitous dad-and-baby picture, since we hope all the Dads will keep brushing their teeth, too!

Gratuitous dad-and-baby picture, since we hope all the Dads will keep brushing their teeth, too!

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