Gum disease in mothers linked to premature births

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Pregnant women who don't visit the dentist regularly or look after their teeth properly are at a higher risk of having their baby prematurely, damaging their offspring's chances of long-term good health, researchers will reveal today.

Pregnant women who don't visit the dentist regularly or look after their teeth properly are at a higher risk of having their baby prematurely, damaging their offspring's chances of long-term good health, researchers will reveal today.

Scientists have found that the effect of gum disease, which is caused by bacteria that accumulate in pockets between the teeth and gums, can be as harmful to the unborn child as a mother smoking regularly.

The findings, due to be announced today at a conference called "The Problem with Prematurity" organised by the Tommy's Campaign, a charity that funds research into problem pregnancies, found that the risk of having a premature baby of a low birth weight was more than seven times higher for women with severe gum disease.

Britain has the highest rate of premature births in Europe. About 7 per cent of babies are born prematurely, at least three weeks too soon. Prematurity is the main cause of death and disability in newborn babies.

Professor Steven Offenbacher, from the University of North Carolina, will present the results of a five-year study into oral conditions during pregnancies. He tested 357 women aged 15 to 45 as part of his research. The women were tested for gum disease when they were less than 26 weeks pregnant and then again three days after the birth of their baby. The study shows that those women who had gum disease while pregnant had a higher than average rate of going into labour at less than 37 weeks gestation (three weeks early), with a smaller number of cases giving birth before 34 weeks. The findings also showed that these women had a higher proportion of babies with a low birth weight, and that deteriorating gum diseaseduring pregnancy significantly increases the risk of pre-eclampsia, a dangerous condition of late pregnancy.

"The results of the trial indicate that the effect of gum disease in pregnancy seems to be as harmful as other well-established risk factors such as smoking," said Professor Offenbacher.

"The next step of the research will be to examine whether providing dental treatment to pregnant mothers suffering from gum disease results in a decrease in premature birth."

Professor Lucilla Poston, professor of foetal health for Tommy's Campaign, said: "Dental treatment is free of charge in the UK throughout pregnancy and the first year of a baby's birth. This study indicates just how important it is for a mother to take care of herself throughout her pregnancy and attend regular dental checks as well as her antenatal appointments."

Previous research has shown that as well as visiting the dentist, eating at least three serving of calcium-rich foods a day could substantially reduce the risk of gum disease.

A study of 1,300 people showed that regular helpings of milk, cheese and yoghurt, as well as other foods high in calcium such as green leafy vegetables, bread and baked beans, can ward off decay.

Men and women whose calcium intake was under 500mg a day, less than half the recommended amount, were almost twice as likely to have gum disease and tooth decay.

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