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Gum Disease May Make It Harder to Get Pregnant


What is the connection between healthy gums and teeth and getting pregnant? According to a new study out of Western Australia, women who have gum disease and who are trying to have a baby may find it is harder for them to get pregnant.

Healthy gums may help women get pregnant faster

Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the gums that is caused by bacteria that infiltrate the gums, cause inflammation, and result in an infection if not treated and good oral hygiene practices (daily brushing, flossing) are not followed. Milder forms of the disease are called gingivitis, but it can progress to periodontitis, in which the gums pull away from the teeth and infection sets in.

Previous research has shown that gum disease is associated with premature birth and miscarriage, as well as heart disease, kidney and respiratory disease, and type 2 diabetes. Now a new study, led by Roger Hart, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Western Australia and Medical Director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia, has found that gum disease may have an impact on conception.

A research team analyzed data for 3,416 pregnant women who were participating in the SMILE study (a large controlled trial that showed treatment of periodontal disease does not harm the mother or fetus during pregnancy). Twenty-six percent (1,014) of the 3,416 women had periodontal disease.

Information on how long it took women to conceive was available for 1,956 women. Overall, women who had gum disease took an average of slightly longer than seven months to become pregnant, while women without gum disease took an average of five months.

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A total of 146 of the 1,956 women took longer than 12 months to get pregnant, which is an indication of impaired fertility. Non-Caucasian women with gum disease were more likely to take longer than one year to become pregnant when compared with women without gum disease. The increased risk of conceiving later was 13.9 percent in women with gum disease versus 6.2 percent in those without disease.

The presence of gum disease also had an impact on conception for Caucasian women, but the difference was not statistically significant. In this subgroup, 8.6 percent of women with gum disease took more than one year to conceive compared with 6.2 percent of women without disease.

The results of this study, which were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, are the first by fertility experts to show that poor oral health can have a significant impact on a woman’s ability to conceive. Professor Hart noted that the negative effect of gum disease was similar to that of obesity on conception.

These results also highlights the importance of maintaining good daily oral health practices, which should also include seeing a dentist regularly. Hart advised that “all women should also be encouraged to see their dentist to have any gum disease treated before trying to conceive.”

“This is the first report to suggest that gum disease might be one of several factors that could be modified to improve the changes of a pregnancy,” noted Hart. This information may be especially helpful for non-Caucasian women, who, explained Hart, appear to have a greater inflammatory response to gum disease than do Caucasian women.

European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology