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Good Dental News for Expectant Mothers
Two UK researchers were part of a team that recently studied the connection between periodontal disease and pre-term delivery. The clinical trial concluded that while treatment for periodontal disease is safe for pregnant women, it does not reduce the risk for pre-term delivery, low birthweight, smaller fetal growth, or serious levels of hypertension.

Photo illustration of woman's open mouth with dentist's mirror reflecting teethThe study, the largest clinical trial ever to try to determine the connection between maternal periodontal disease and increased risk of pre-term birth and low birthweight, was published in November in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Dental treatment is not usually recommended during the first trimester because this is such an important time in fetal development,” says John Novak, professor and associate director of UK’s College of Dentistry’s Center for Oral Health Research. “Periodontal surgery would normally be delayed until after the pregnancy.” James Ferguson, professor and chair in the College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UK, worked with Novak on this project, which was backed by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The study, which began in March 2003, enrolled 823 women from Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, the University of Kentucky in Lexington, University of Mississippi/Jackson Medical Mall in Jackson, Mississippi, and Harlem Hospital/Columbia University in New York.

All of the women had periodontal disease, which is caused by bacteria, plaque and other toxins that erode the gum line. The volunteers, between 13 and 17 weeks pregnant upon entering the study, were divided into two groups: Those who received periodontal treatment (root planing and scaling—scraping the root to clean off toxins below the gums) before the 21st week of pregnancy and a control group that received the same treatment after delivery.

“Dental care during pregnancy has long been an issue dominated by caution more than data,” says Larry Tabak, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial research. “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.”

For more on John Novak’s research, see “A Mouthful of Evidence” in the Spring 2003 Odyssey. —Jeff Worley

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