The Link Between Periodontal Disease and Pre-term Birth

Periodontal disease is very closely linked with pre-term birth. The risk of pre-term birth can be greatly reduced by proper treatment of periodontal disease. This is good news for prospective parents, because pre-term birth is the single most common cause of major birth defects, including loss of vision and hearing, developmental delay, and cerebral palsy.

One study, published in the Journal of Microbiology, indicated that infection with periodontal disease may be the primary trigger for as many as 80% of all pre-term births. The director of the study stated, “The earlier the woman goes into pre-term labor, the higher the chance that she will be infected.”

Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks. To be considered pre-term, a birth must take place during week 37, or before. About 12% of all births in America are pre-term. The incidence of pre-term birth has increased by 30% since 1981, for reasons that are considered unknown.

It’s believed that periodontal disease causes pre-term birth when bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream and travel to the uterus, where they colonize, and cause inflammation.

In another study of pregnant women, doctors removed amniotic fluid from women who were known to have high-risk pregnancies. Of the women, 85% had bacteria in their amniotic fluid that had not been previously detected.

As with diabetes, the cause/effect phenomenon that links pre-term birth with periodontitis appears to be cyclical, with pregnancy promoting gum disease, and gum disease promoting pre-term birth. It has long been known that it’s common for pregnancy to cause at least minor problems with the gums, but it is now known these problems then heighten the risk of pre-term birth.

Therefore, it is wise for pregnant women to be especially diligent in maintaining optimal oral health throughout their pregnancies.