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  Gum disease linked to premature delivery risk

NEW YORK, May 08 (Reuters Health) - Expectant mothers should pay particular attention to their oral health, according to research presented Sunday at the American Academy of Periodontology's Specialty Conference on Periodontal Medicine, held in Washington, DC. Experts warn that pregnant women with periodontal disease may be at a greater risk for preterm delivery.

"Past studies have shown that women with periodontal disease may be up to seven times more likely to deliver a preterm low birth weight baby," according to a statement from the American Academy of Periodontology. However, when the disease affects at least 30% of their mouth, the risk is even greater, preliminary results from a continuing study of over 2,000 pregnant women suggest.

"We were amazed by these findings," said lead study author Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, chair of periodontics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry, in a statement.

However, even when the disease affects less than 30% of the woman's mouth, the risk for preterm delivery remains. "The trend for preterm birth was observed in women with as little as two sites with attachment loss," said Jeffcoat. Attachment loss, caused mostly by bacteria, describes the destruction of the bony structure that holds teeth in place.

Excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and genitourinary infections can also cause preterm delivery. However, these women displayed none of these risk factors. On the other hand, about one in four preterm births in the United States occur without any known risk factors.

"Low birth weight is a major public health problem in our country," said Dr. Jack Caton, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "It's important that we continue to try to identify risk factors and preventable or treatable conditions that can help reduce the rate of premature births. Continued research into the link between periodontal disease and preterm births will help the medical and dental community provide the best possible care for mothers-to-be," he added.

Jeffcoat's current research--to be completed next year--concerns the effect of periodontal disease treatment on the health of pregnant women. "Initial data tells us the best advice continues to be that women considering pregnancy have a periodontal screening and get any problems with their oral health under control before becoming pregnant," she said.

However, according to Jeffcoat, women who are already pregnant can also receive dental care. "I advise periodontists to perform scaling and root planning, along with any supportive therapy, in the second trimester for pregnant patients with periodontal disease," she stated.


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