The Specialist

Gum disease link to pregnancy and premature low-birth weight babies

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

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, 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 age 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.

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 interferes with the mother’s natural inflammatory response in the placenta thereby causing premature contractions. This action contributes to the baby being born early.

Twenty million infants worldwide, or 15.5 percent of all deliveries, are born with low-birth weight. Sixty percent to 75 percent of women worldwide 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. The World Health Organization (WHO) 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.

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 the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or

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