Women: Don't neglect your teeth and gums during pregnancy

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Pregnancy is a time when many women focus on taking better care of themselves for the health and safety of their unborn child. A new study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology reminds women not to neglect their oral health, as untreated gum disease can have disastrous effects on the newborn.

The study focuses on the case study of a 35-year-old California woman who had a full-term stillborn baby. An oral bacteria called Fusobacterium nucleatum from the mother’s infected and bleeding gums spread from her blood stream into the placenta during pregnancy. In general, this type of bacteria can easily be combated by the mother’s immune system, but the fetus is more susceptible to the harmful effects of the bacteria.

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Dr. Richard H. Beigi, an obstetric infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of reproductive science at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center warns women not to be overly alarmed by the findings from this rare case study. Bleeding gums are not unusual in pregnant women, due to normal hormonal changes. Mild gum disease can be treated by improving dental care – brushing and flossing more often.

What women should take away from this study is the importance of oral hygiene during pregnancy. Gingivitis can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies between two to seven times. Oral bacteria is thought to trigger increased levels of prostaglandin that induces labor.

Another dental concern in pregnancy is a condition called “pregnancy granuloma” or pregnancy tumor. These gum growths can occur in 2 to 10% of pregnant women, usually during the second trimester. They are not actually tumors, nor are they cancerous, but they do cause discomfort. These red nodules bleed easily and can form an ulcer in the mouth. Poor oral hygiene is a primary factor pregnancy granulomas and women who have these usually also have widespread pregnancy gingivitis.

The American Dental Association recommends that women considering pregnancy visit their dentist to treat any oral problems before becoming pregnant. During the pregnancy, women are encouraged to brush at least twice a day for at least two minutes at a time. Floss regularly and use an antimicrobial mouth rinse that does not contain alcohol to kill bacteria. Schedule a dental visit during the second trimester of pregnancy. A balanced, low sugar diet also helps keep tooth decay away.

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