A woman's hormonal balance is disturbed during pregnancy giving rise to oral diseases. Poor oral health, especially gum disease, is common in pregnant women between the second and eighth months of pregnancy. Other factors such as HIV infection, poor oral hygiene, smoking, low educational or employment status, and ethnicity also worsen oral health in pregnant women. Studies have shown that black women are more likely than white women to have oral health problems during pregnancy and delivery.
On the other hand, global data shows that in developing countries, low-birth weight (of less than 2500g) babies are at an increased risk of serious health problems, disabilities and even death.
So, to investigate the relationship between oral health indicators in pregnant mothers and birth outcomes in black African population, Margaret Wandera and colleagues conducted a study in Eastern Uganda on 593 pregnant women and followed it up with anthropometric assessments of their infants 3 weeks after delivery.
The results were assessed based on the interview via a structured questionnaire and clinical oral examination in pregnant mothers, and anthropometric indices on the basis of weight, length, age and the sex of the babies.
The researchers found that -
• Oral health problems, including plaque and calculus formation during pregnancy, increased with the age of the mother and in single mothers.
• Oral health problems were less in women who were first time pregnant or women who delivered their first child.
• Women who used mosquito bed nets (a socio-economic status determinant) were less likely to have oral disease.
• Gum bleeding was not much prevalent in study subjects.
• Among the study infants at 3 weeks, 2 percent were wasted, 6.9 percent were underweight and 10 percent were stunted. Wasting was worse in infants whose mothers suffered from gum problems.
The researchers concluded that socio-demographic factors and awareness regarding oral health were associated with oral health indicators in pregnant women. Also, the infant height with respect to their age at 3 weeks was worse in mothers who had poor oral hygiene during pregnancy.
The results of the study cannot be generalized to all populations. The researchers, thus, suggested that 'efforts to prevent oral diseases during pregnancy should be part of the local state and national health policy agenda in Uganda'.
Wandera, M. et al. Determinants of periodontal health in pregnant women and association with infants' anthropometric status: a prospective cohort study from Eastern Uganda. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:90 doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-90