Gum disease and pregnancy are not two subjects you might expect to go hand in hand, but if there’s anything we’ve learned in educating ourselves and others about gum disease, it’s that it can have surprising and drastic effects on the rest of your health. Because the mouth is an entry point to the rest of your body, bacteria from gum disease can actually travel from your gums and teeth to other parts of your body and begin wreaking havoc.
When it comes to gum disease and pregnancy, the health of both the mother and the baby are at risk. Because pregnant women are already likely to have gum disease due to hormonal changes, it’s especially important to stay on top of your oral health so the following side effects of gum disease don’t impact your pregnancy and child’s life in infancy and beyond.
Studies have shown that women with severe gum disease left untreated during pregnancy are more susceptible to having early labor. This means that gum disease can lead to having your baby prematurely and make them more at risk for birth defects and even death.
Fetal growth restriction is another side effect of untreated gum disease, meaning your baby may not develop and grow in the womb to its full potential before being born. Those women with severe periodontal disease were 11 times more likely to have babies with fetal growth restriction.
Gum disease has also been linked to preeclampsia, a condition that can harm the health of both mother and baby. It is characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy and damage to other internal organs, frequently liver and/or kidneys.
“Inherited” gum disease
Though a mother’s bacteria (such as those from gum disease) don’t usually cross over to the baby in the womb, within hours of days of being born, the baby will start to share the microbiome of its mother, and this can continue for up to four months after birth. That means that your baby may be getting bacteria from direct transfer of bodily fluids if you have untreated gum disease.
As the child grows older, they may also “inherit” bad oral health habits that persist into adulthood if the mother is disinterested in oral health.
Female (and male) infertility
Gum disease may have an impact on even getting pregnant in the first place. More research needs to be done, but studies show that women with fertility issues like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome are much more likely to have gum disease.
For men, untreated gum disease can lower sperm count dramatically and cause them to be sluggish swimmers.
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If you’re expecting or hoping to start a family soon, make sure visiting your dental professional is on your agenda. Gum disease and pregnancy may sound like strange bedfellows, but they are a very real concern for maternal and fetal health. Luckily, brushing and flossing regularly and receiving treatment from your dentist are simple ways to prevent these dangers.