Gingivitis during pregnancy is a common oral health issue. Studies show that developing gingivitis while pregnant carries an increased risk of pre-mature births and low birth weight babies.

In this issue, we will discuss the relationship between gum diseases and its effects to the developing baby.

A full-term pregnancy lasts about nine months. Despite this relatively short period of time a developing gum infection, like gingivitis or severe periodontal disease can result in more serious consequences to the fetus.

What is pregnancy gingivitis?

Gingivitis is one of the most common oral health problems. It is caused by bacteria growing inside the gums. When the bacteria collect around the gums, they cause swelling, redness, and bleeding.

Both gingivitis and its more serious form called Periodontitis can happen among people of all ages. They are more prevalent during pregnancy and among people over 50, especially those with diabetes or other chronic systemic diseases. Other risk factors for periodontal infection include smoking, insufficient vitamin C and poor oral hygiene habits.

In pregnancy, hormones like estrogen and progesterone play a role. Both hormones can slightly change the pH of the mouth and raise blood sugar levels. When the sugar levels rise the oral bacteria do the most damage. As a result, gingivitis develops, especially during the second trimester. This is known as maternal periodontal disease.

How Oral Hygiene is Linked to Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight?

A woman’s poor dental health can trigger an earlier than planned delivery, along with other side effects. Scientists have determined that the oral bacteria in periodontal disease can trigger pro-inflammatory markers to enter the bloodstream from the gums. Also, the bad bugs in the gum pockets, called “gram-negative anaerobic bacteria” cause an immune strike. This immune system strike interfers with the mother’s natural inflammatory response in the placenta thereby causing premature contractions. This action contributes to the baby being born early.

20 million infants worldwide, or 15.5 percent of all deliveries are born with low birth weight. 60 to 75% of women world-wide are affected due to the prevalence of gingivitis. Low birth weight and premature births are significant because they can indicate other potential health hazards, including death.

The implications of these statistics are important. For example, one of the leading indirect causes of perinatal deaths (from pregnancy to one year after birth) include complications associated with premature birth and low birth weight. World Health Organization reports that over 6.3 million perinatal deaths occur every year worldwide. Secondly, even when babies survive being born early or underweight, the possibility of a disability increases.

In closing, the good news is treatment for gingivitis is very easy to perform and is inexpensive and accessible. A dental check-up and thorough professional clean, with deep scaling where necessary should prevent and treat any gum inflammation.

Prevention of gingivitis in women during pregnancy would provide enormous health benefits. It’s important that women and health providers know that taking good care of ones oral hygiene is not just for the health of the mother but also for her baby. Regular dental checks, dental cleaning and treatment of any gum inflammation should be a vital part of pregnancy care for all women.

Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected].

A baby is considered premature or a preterm birth when it is born before the 37th week.
Low birth weight is when an infant is born with a weight of 2,499 grams (5 pounds) or less.

Regular dental check-ups and good dental hygiene is important during pregnancy

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