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Gum Disease and Pregnancy Risks

If you are pregnant or considering getting pregnant, you should be aware of your oral health. That’s because gum disease can cause potential problems for women and their babies during pregnancy. This association can make pregnancy significantly more expensive, and can put the health of both mother and child at risk. It’s important to address this problem preventively as much as possible. Good oral hygiene and regular dental cleanings are important beforehand.  It’s unclear whether getting gum disease treatment during pregnancy is effective at reducing negative outcomes.

pregnant woman looks down at her belly, smiling over the growing baby in her body

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is when the space around your teeth and/or your gums themselves are infected with oral bacteria. The condition has two related aspects that work together to create the symptoms you experience, including the potential negative consequences.

Gum disease is usually divided into two different types. Gingivitis is mild gum disease, usually related to swollen gums, gum tenderness, and potentially gum bleeding when brushing or following dental treatment. More serious gum disease is called periodontitis. Periodontitis causes spontaneous gum bleeding, receding gums, the loss of bone around teeth, and, eventually, tooth loss.

One part of gum disease is the oral bacteria themselves. Although certain diets, coupled with poor oral hygiene, can lead to an increase in the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth, everyone has some amount of bacteria in their mouths. Some of this bacteria is beneficial, others are harmful.

The other part of gum disease is the body’s response to infection. Many of the effects we see and feel are caused by our immune system. The inflammatory response that makes gums swell and bleed is mostly our immune system. In addition, the bone damage in periodontitis is caused by your immune system’s aggressive response to serious infection.

The two parts are related. Obviously, when there is more oral bacteria,  your immune system will increase its response. However, oral bacteria can also corrupt and alter your body’s immune response. They do this to protect themselves, but it can turn your body against itself, leading to bone loss around the teeth and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In RA, the immune system attacks your joints.

Gum Disease and Pregnancy: Understanding the Connection

During pregnancy, about 60 to 75% of women experience gingivitis. This is much higher than the typical 41% of the population that experiences gingivitis. This isn’t necessarily because pregnant women have more oral bacteria. Instead, it’s likely that the body’s immune system is more active during pregnancy. Hormone changes can make the immune system more aggressive, and this increases redness and swelling during pregnancy, too.

Your level of infection may not be more serious, but your body’s response is more aggressive, and that can lead to more serious health problems.

Hormonal changes might also lead to changes in the types of bacteria that live in your mouth, fostering the development of more aggressive bacteria over less aggressive ones. In some cases, changes in saliva might make conditions more favorable for oral bacteria, so they can increase in number, too.

Fortunately, changes in gum disease tend to be temporary and resolve on their own as hormone levels return to non-pregnancy levels. 

Periodontitis Can Lead to Pregnancy Complications

It’s important to be aware of gum disease during pregnancy because the more serious form of the condition, periodontitis, has been linked to pregnancy complications. The most common pregnancy complications linked to gum disease are:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Pre-eclampsia

Numerous studies have confirmed these associations, but others say there is not enough evidence to draw these conclusions. In all cases, the estimate of relative risk is that periodontitis increases the risk of these complications by 1.5 to 2 times.

Gum Disease Treatment Might Not Reduce Risk

While most studies agree that gum disease increases the risk of pregnancy complications, the benefits of treatment are less clear. Cochrane Library reviews are often seen as the best indicators of what science does or doesn’t show about the benefits of medical treatments.

The most recent Cochrane Library review of treating periodontal disease to reduce pregnancy complications didn’t show a clear benefit.

The review showed low-quality evidence that gum disease treatment reduced the risk of low birth weight. Otherwise, treating gum disease during pregnancy didn’t seem to have a significant impact on complication risks.

However, it’s worth noting that a large study looking at nearly 340,000 patients’ medical records over five years found that getting gum disease treatment could significantly reduce costs of pregnancy. This 2014 study showed that women with gum disease who got it treated saw a 74% reduction in pregnancy costs, saving them an average of $2433 in pregnancy-related costs. This demonstrates that although the actual reduction in risk might be small, the benefits could be large, making this a worthwhile consideration.

Take Care of Oral Health in Woburn, MA

If you are looking for a dentist to help you take care of your oral health in Woburn, MA, Dr. Ryan Clancy and Divine Smiles are here for you. We can help  you avoid gum disease or offer gum disease treatment to protect you from complications.

Please call (781) 396-8558 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation at Divine Smiles in Woburn, MA.

By Dr. Ryan Clancy | December 15th, 2021 | Gum Disease |

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