Having Healthy Babies Means Having Healthy Teeth
The first thing on a newly pregnant woman’s mind is not likely to be a visit to the dentist’s office. After all, babies don’t even have teeth until they reach about six months of age, right? Scientists, however, are uncovering more and more evidence to suggest that good oral health in the mother may be a vital aspect of good prenatal care overall.
The link between gum disease in pregnant women and low-birth-weight or premature babies has been demonstrated through numerous studies over the last two decades. Only recently, however, has enough evidence been accumulated to draw the attention of the general public.
Scientists have discovered two aspects of oral infection that negatively impact pregnancy. The first is the bacterial infection itself. When the gums become irritated and pull away from the teeth, they allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Once in the blood, these organisms can cross the placenta and enter the fetal environment, stressing the baby and hindering growth and development.
The other primary consequence of infection stems from the inflammatory response of the mother’s body. By trying to fight off the infection, the immune system may actually trigger premature labor. This is because the chemicals that are produced in the body in response to infection are the same that are released to trigger contractions when a woman naturally begins to give birth.
Furthermore, it is already well known that the hormonal upheaval that occurs during pregnancy causes the gums to become highly sensitive and more easily irritated, increasing a woman’s chances of developing gum disease, even with healthy dental habits.
The difficult thing to determine is the degree to which gum disease is a risk to an unborn child in the absence of other factors. Research studies currently in progress are aimed at making this determination by incorporating much larger and more randomized samples of women than were included in previous studies.
In the meantime, it is important for pregnant women to realize that preventing a potentially harmful infection is as simple as practicing good oral hygiene and making the time to visit the dentist. Because gum disease is often known as a “silent invader,” triggering no pain or noticeable symptoms until the infection is already relatively severe, a woman shouldn’t assume that she is in perfect oral health just because her gums and teeth feel fine. Regular, thorough examinations are necessary to catch any early signs of gum disease and treat it before it becomes a more serious problem.
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