Scientists supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, report in this week's New England Journal of Medicine that pregnant women who received non-surgical treatment for their periodontal, or gum, disease did not also significantly lower their risk of delivering a premature or low-birthweight baby.
These results come from the largest clinical trial to date to evaluate whether treating periodontal disease during pregnancy reduces a women's risk of early delivery, an idea that has emerged as a possibility in recent years. Non-surgical, or standard, periodontal treatment involves thoroughly cleaning the teeth above and below the gums, commonly called scaling and root planing.
The study, called the Obstetrics and Periodontal Therapy Trial (OPT), also evaluated the safety of general dental care during pregnancy. It found that dental treatment through the second trimester - both general and periodontal care did not increase the number of adverse events for women during pregnancy.
Until now, little research had been conducted on the subject, although dentists generally provide limited dental care to women only during the second trimester when the fetus has reached a more stable developmental stage and before treatment becomes too physically cumbersome for the mother.
"Dental care during pregnancy has long been an issue dominated by caution more than data," said NIDCR director Dr. Larry Tabak. "The finding that periodontal treatment during pregnancy did not increase adverse events is important news for women, especially for those who will need to have their periodontal disease treated during pregnancy."
In the United States, more than one-half million - or about one in eight - babies are born prematurely, which is defined as a birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Extremely preterm babies can be so small and underdeveloped that they
Contact: Bob Kuska
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research