NYU College of Dentistry study equates poor oral health with preterm birth risk

Pregnant women with high levels of an oral bacterium associated with tooth decay and caries (cavities) are at risk for delivering preterm low birth weight (PLBW) babies, according to a study that was published today in the Journal of Periodontology. The study marks the first time that preterm delivery has been associated with oral bacteria other than those which cause infections of the gums (periodontal disease). This new evidence adds to the growing body of research which shows that a pregnant woman's oral health is important to the health of her newborn.

The study's principal investigator, Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, associate professor of epidemiology & health promotion at the New York University College of Dentistry, and director of the College's Graduate Program in Clinical Research, hypothesizes that oral bacteria associated with caries can travel to the uterus as transient bacteria. Once in the uterus, the bacteria and the molecules the body produces in response to them (known as proinflammatory mediators) can lead to uterine contractions and cervical dilation. When the cervix becomes dilated, more bacteria can enter and eventually cause the uterine membranes to rupture and preterm birth to occur.

Preterm low birth weight is generally defined as delivery before 37 complete weeks of pregnancy with a birth weight of less than 2,500 grams. PLBW babies have a greater risk of morbidity, mortality, and disability. Preterm deliveries rose 27 percent between 1982 and 2002, to a total of 480,812, or 12.1 percent of all U.S. births, an increase attributed to such factors as the growing use of fertility drugs, increasing teenage pregnancy and smoking levels, and physicans' improved ability to successfully deliver high-risk pregnancies that might otherwise have ended in miscarriage. It has been estimated that hospital-related costs for each preterm delivery were about $75,000 in 2002 representing a total cost of approximately $36 billion, according t

Contact: Ami Finkelthal
New York University

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