Dental Dangers

New clues about the link between gum disease and premature labor


Once you have your baby, you'll smile more than ever. But don't take that grin for granted: Ignoring your oral hygiene could put your smile at risk—or worse, it could put your baby at risk.Any infection during pregnancy raises your risk for delivering a premature and/or low-birth-weight baby, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Women with severe gum disease are seven times more likely to deliver too early or to have a baby who is too small, so it's crucial that you keep your dental health up to par.Problems can begin early in pregnancy, when your body produces extra estrogen and progesterone. This leap in hormones makes the gums react differently to the bacteria in plaque and can result in the gum infection called gingivitis. By the second or third month of pregnancy, many women start to notice the swelling, tenderness, redness and bleeding known as pregnancy gingivitis.Gingivitis isn't just another passing, benign symptom of pregnancy. Untreated, it can progress to a serious gum condition known as periodontal disease. At this latter stage, it attacks the bone and tissue that support the teeth. The bacteria in plaque also send toxins into the bloodstream and across the placenta, where they can restrict fetal growth. In addition, they release a hormone-like chemical called prostaglandin, which can lead to premature labor.To minimize the risks of dental problems, begin your pregnancy with a healthy mouth. "Have a regular cleaning, get any necessary X-rays and treat problems before you get pregnant," says Michael K. McGuire, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Periodontology. If you didn't do this before conception, make an appointment for a checkup and cleaning in your first trimester—but be sure to tell your dentist that you're pregnant. Because of the potential risk to your baby, you probably won't receive X-rays unless there is an emergency.Experts also suggest these prevention tips:

Use fluoride toothpaste, and floss every day. Brush thoroughly in the morning, at night and after meals, paying special attention to your gum line. Consider using a gum stimulator and fluoride or anti-plaque rinses.

If you have gingivitis, consider having your teeth cleaned every three or four months instead of the usual six. You also might visit your dentist in the second trimester to monitor your oral hygiene. Try to keep visits brief in the third trimester, when dental chairs can be uncomfortable. For more information on oral health, visit