Periodontal or gum disease may be worse for women in childbearing age than previously thought, a new study to be published in The Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery says.
The study found that gum disease, specifically around the wisdom tooth may be an indicator of premature birth. The researchers observed and examined 1,020 women in the childbearing age group from December 1997 to July 2001. All the women were 26 weeks pregnant. The researchers gave them a thorough periodontal examination and categorized their gum status as either healthy-mild or moderate-severe depending on the depth of pockets around the gum area.
Premature birth is defined as birth before 37 weeks of gestation. "It is pretty well accepted that chronic inflammation is a health risk. One obvious place for inflammation is the mouth. There are probably 75 studies reporting the impact of periodontal disease on negative health outcomes - renal, cardiologic and now obstetric," said Dr. Raymond P. White Jr., a co-author of the study and a professor of surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Women who had a pocket depth of more than 4 mm around the wisdom tooth area were more than twice as likely to have systemic inflammation as measured by the C-reactive protein levels in the blood. This marker is also indicative of heart disease.
The study found that 18 percent of the women classified as high-risk delivered premature babies and 13 percent had moderate to severe periodontal disease during their pregnancy. The study concludes by saying, "All women of childbearing age, their dentists and physicians should be aware of the systemic risks from oral inflammation with periodontal pathology."
Dr. White added that since symptoms appear late in gum disease, people tended to ignore them, "Dentists have become complacent. The last thing they want to do is provide treatment way back there in the mouth."