Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, is an infection of both the bone and gum tissue in your mouth. If left untreated, it can have serious health implications for both your dental and overall health. Periodontal disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
When you are pregnant, gum disease and the related conditions become even more serious. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of periodontal disease during pregnancy so that you can take care of yourself and your unborn child.
Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection. It is caused by plaque (a mixture of food residue and bacteria) that exists on the teeth for too long without being removed by brushing or a professional dental cleaning. When the plaque sets in it can harden into calculus, which at that point can only be removed by a dental hygienist. The bacteria also reach a level of maturity that makes it easier to infect the gum tissue.
Gum disease causes the gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. The other support structure for the teeth, including the jaw bone, cartilage, and ligaments, start to deteriorate as well. The teeth can become loose and even fall out.
During pregnancy certain hormonal changes can cause inflammation of the gum tissue, which makes pregnant women more at risk of developing gum disease.
Gum disease has been linked to heart disease. Preeclampsia, most commonly characterized by high blood pressure, is a serious condition during pregnancy. It can put the pregnant mother and unborn baby at risk of fatality. In addition to high blood pressure, other organs begin to fail, such as the liver and kidneys. Even gestational hypertension, which is just high blood pressure without the other symptoms, can be serious if not treated. These risks are all higher for a pregnant mother with periodontal disease.
Gum disease has also been linked to diabetes. An increase in sugar in the saliva may be the cause or the effect. Gestational diabetes is a serious condition that some pregnant women develop. Pregnancy can cause diabetic symptoms that were not present before she became pregnant. A pregnant mother with periodontal disease may be at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Although it is usually manageable, gestational diabetes can be risky to the mother and baby. It can increase the chances of a premature birth and also cause high birth weight for the baby, which can lead to a difficult delivery.
Implications for the Baby
The biggest risk to the baby is low birth weight. This can happen if the mother goes into labor prematurely, which is more likely to occur due to the health conditions related to periodontal disease.
The Keys to the Connection Between Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy Complications
The following are the reason that gum disease has negative effects on the health of pregnant women and their babies:
- Bacteria. Gum disease is caused by an infection of bacteria. When the infection is not treated, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream where it can travel to other parts of the body. Studies found oral bacteria in the coronary arteries and mammary glands of pregnant women with gum disease.
- Prostaglandin. A labor-inducing substance, prostaglandin is found in a bacterial strain that is known to cause gum disease. It can cause premature labor which can result in low birth weight.
- C-Reactive Protein. The inflammation associated with gum disease can cause the liver to produce the C-Reactive Protein, or CRP. This protein is linked to heart disease, as well as premature birth and preeclampsia in pregnant women.
How to Prevent Gum Disease for a Healthy Pregnancy
Good oral hygiene habits can help prevent periodontal disease. This includes brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day, and going to the dentist every 6 months for dental cleanings and exams. Perio Implant Specialists of New Jersey can treat and help prevent gum disease. Procedures such as scaling and root planing can help remove the plaque that causes gum disease and prevent it from recurring.