Preventing gum disease may be good for your baby.

Research has linked gum disease in women to an increased risk of premature delivery. In a recent study of more than 100 women who were either pregnant or had recently given birth, the women with periodontal (serious gum) disease were seven times more likely to deliver a premature, low birth weight baby than those with healthy gums. (By comparison, combined alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy increase the probability by 2.5 times.) Another ongoing study of 2,000 women has also found a similar increased risk.

What is the connection? Researchers believe that bacteria from diseased gums enter the bloodstream during eating or brushing. These bacteria may then affect the levels of prostaglandin (or PGE2), a biological fluid naturally present in a woman’s body. When the level of PGE2 rises significantly, usually in the ninth month of pregnancy, labour begins. But in women with serious gum disease, the level of PGE2 may rise too soon, triggering early labour.

More research is needed however, to confirm how periodontal disease may affect pregnancy outcomes. All infections are cause for concern among pregnant women because they pose a potential risk to the health of the baby. The American Academy of Periodontology recommends that women considering pregnancy have a periodontal evaluation prior to becoming pregnant or once she becomes pregnant. It is always important to see your dental hygienist for routine preventive care and especially important if you are pregnant and/or considering pregnancy.