The Link between Periodontal Disease and Low Birth Weight
Complications with one’s oral health unquestionably have an impact on systemic health, and poor oral hygiene can increase the likelihood of disease processes throughout the rest of the body. The length of time associated with healthy pregnancies, researchers have found, is often shortened due to infections in the oral cavity. Low birth weight, which affects the health of a newborn, is a result. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, “increasing evidence suggests that maternal gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (inflammation and disease of the structures surrounding the teeth) may be risk factors for preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes.” One characteristic of both of these conditions that may induce early labor is the presence of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormones that are responsible for prompting delivery following a regular nine-month pregnancy term.
Prostaglandins and Periodontal Disease
Prostaglandins are the hormones responsible for telling the body when a pregnancy has ended, and their function is to induce the delivery of a fully-grown fetus. When the mouth becomes infected, the body’s uses inflammation to defend against infection, and prostaglandins are a byproduct that proliferates in the oral cavity. These prostaglandins actually “trick” the body into thinking that a pregnancy has ended, as there is no mechanism to differentiate when chemicals are in the mouth, versus the fetal-placental unit. Gingivitis and periodontal disease are both infections within the oral cavity and, accordingly, the body has an inflammatory response to defend itself. Inflammation due to these infections causes bacteria to release prostaglandins as a byproduct. In general, the less inflammation that is present in the oral cavity during pregnancy, the less of a chance that there is of an early delivery. As research regarding prostaglandins and their affect on pregnancy are still in their infancy, practicing good oral hygiene at the onset of pregnancy seems to be the best method when it comes to avoiding complications.
Ways to Control Periodontal Infections and Pregnancy Gingivitis
Although gingivitis is a condition that often manifests during pregnancy, and then disappears following delivery, there are ways to control and reverse the presence of infection once it is clinically evident.
One way to control gingival inflammation and the subsequent release of prostaglandins is by using dental floss once daily throughout the entire mouth. This will mechanically dislodge plaque, which is often a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria. Many types of mouth rinse also have bactericidal properties (meaning, literally, “to kill bacteria”), which will reduce, but not completely eliminate, the quantity of infectious microorganisms in the mouth. Used in conjunction with brushing, floss and mouth rinse can reverse the presence of inflammation and, subsequently, reduce the number of prostaglandins that are produced.
While periodontal disease is an irreversible condition, if a patient is pregnant, it is still important to be especially meticulous with oral hygiene. This includes brushing and flossing, as well as frequent (3-4 month) check-ups with your dental professional. By reducing the number of bacteria in the oral cavity, patients lower their risk of premature delivery by reducing the incidence of prostaglandins in the mouth. Ultimately, researchers are uncovering that the health of the oral cavity plays an integral role in keeping the rest of the body healthy.
By: Lauren Hapeman