Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria destroy the connective tissue and bone that support the teeth. The effects of periodontal disease aren't limited to the mouth, though — in pregnant women the disease is associated with an increased risk of pre-term birth, low birth weight, and eclampsia, a condition that results from high blood pressure during pregnancy. If periodontal disease increases the risk of pre-term birth, can treating it improve (or worsen) birth outcomes?
In a study supported by a grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, researchers randomly assigned 823 pregnant women with periodontal disease to receive dental treatment either during pregnancy or after delivery. The women in the pregnancy treatment group underwent scaling and planing (scaling involves removing plaque and tartar beneath the gum line and planing involves smoothing the tooth's root surfaces) before 21 weeks of pregnancy, as well as monthly tooth polishing and oral hygiene education. Researchers tracked the birth weight and gestational age of the babies of the women in both groups.
The rates of pre-term birth and low birth weight didn't differ significantly between the two groups. Although the women in the pregnancy treatment group experienced improvements in their periodontal disease, the dental treatment did not change or reduce their risk of pre-term delivery, eclampsia, or other pregnancy complications compared with the women who were not treated until after delivery.
What This Means to You
According to the results of this study, undergoing scaling and root planing during pregnancy appears to be safe and does not increase the risk of pre-term birth or low birth weight. Because pregnancy can cause hormonal changes that may affect your risk of gum disease, it's important to take good care of your mouth and teeth. If possible, schedule a dental cleaning and checkup prior to pregnancy, and make sure to brush and floss daily to reduce the risk of cavities. Dentists may recommend delaying elective dental procedures until after delivery, but routine cleanings are safe. Be sure to tell your dentist that you're pregnant before your appointment begins.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2006
Source: Bryan S. Michalowicz, DDS; James S. Hodges, PhD; Anthony J. DiAngelis, DMD, MPH, et al; New England Journal of Medicine, November 2, 2006.