Mary Ann Hanlon, DDS, MS
Practice Limited to Periodontics

Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy

Periodontal disease in pregnant women exposes the unborn child to many different risks.

Periodontal disease generally begins as a bacterial infection in the gum tissue.  If left untreated, the infection spreads, significantly deepening the gum pockets (space between the teeth and gums) and forcing the gum and jawbone to recede.  Eventually, the progressive nature of periodontal disease causes the teeth to become loose and unstable.

Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes, increasing the expectant mother's risk of developing risk of gingivitis (inflammation of the gum tissue) and periodontal disease.  Many studies have linked these oral problems to preeclampsia, low infant birth weight and premature delivery.  Expectant mothers should seek immediate treatment of periodontal disease in order to reduce the risk of pre-natal and post-natal complications.

Reasons for the Connection

There are many different reasons why periodontal disease may affect the health of the mother and her unborn child:

  • Prostaglandin – Periodontal disease appears to elevate levels of prostaglandin in mothers who are suffering from the more advanced forms of the condition.   Elevated levels of prostaglandin can cause the mother to give birth prematurely and deliver a baby with a low birth weight.

  • C - reactive protein (CRP) – This protein is linked to heart disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preeclampsia and premature birth.  Periodontal infections elevate C-reactive protein levels and amplify the body’s natural inflammatory response.  Periodontal bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause the liver to produce CRP, ultimately leading to inflamed arteries  and possible blood clots.  These inflammatory effects can then lead to blocked arteries, strokes and heart attacks.
  • Bacteria spread – The bacteria which colonize in the gum pockets can readily travel through the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body.  In pregnant women, oral bacteria and associated pathogens have colonized in the internal mammary glands and coronary arteries.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are many safe, nonsurgical treatment options available for pregnant women.  It is of paramount importance to halt the progress of periodontal disease to increase the chances of a safe and healthy delivery.

Initially, your periodontist will assess the condition of the gums and jawbone.  Scaling and root planing are two common nonsurgical procedures used to rid the root surfaces of calculus (tartar) and remove the bacterial toxins from the gum pockets.

With aggressive treatment, the risks of pregnancy complications caused by periodontal disease are reduced by as much as 50%.   These treatments will also alleviate many unpleasant and harmful effects associated with gingivitis and periodontal infection.  Risks of periodontal disease can be vastly reduced by proper home care, smoking cessation, dietary changes.

If you have any questions or concerns about periodontal disease and its effect on pregnancy, please ask your periodontist.


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