Does Poor Oral Hygiene Hurt Pregnancy Chances?

Failure to brush and floss regularly could lead to gum disease that interferes with conception, new research shows.

Failure to brush and floss regularly could lead to gum disease that interferes with conception, new research shows.

Along with folic acid supplements, dental floss and toothpaste may soon be considered over-the-counter “must-haves” for women who are trying to get pregnant.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to avoid gum disease, which can lengthen the time it takes to conceive by an extra 2 months, according to findings presented July 5, 2011, at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. A report on the randomized controlled trial was also published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Periodontal disease’s slowing effect on conception is comparable to that of obesity, reported lead study author Roger Hart, MD, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. “This is the first report to suggest that gum disease might be one of several factors that could be modified to improve the chances of a pregnancy,” Dr. Hart said.

Gum disease occurs when unchecked bacteria in the mouth create inflammation in the gums and supporting tissues. The resulting chronic infection can pass through the inflamed gums and into bloodstream. It is often referred to as “the sixth complication of diabetes,” and has been linked in past studies to cardiovascular disease and adverse birth outcomes, although the mechanisms are not fully understood.

To investigate the relationship between conception and oral health, Dr. Hart and colleagues examined at pregnancy planning and outcomes data for 3416 Australian women. Those with gum disease (26% of the study population) took an average of 7 months to get pregnant, whereas disease-free women took an average of just 5 months.

The effect was more pronounced in non-Caucasian women—13.9% of non-Caucasian women with gum disease took longer than a year to conceive, compared with just 6.2% of non-Caucasians without gum disease. The study also confirmed that being older than 35 years of age, being overweight or obese, and being a smoker lengthened time to conception.

Brush, floss, and get checked

Prevention is the best medicine for periodontal disease, and pharmacists should counsel all women to brush twice daily and floss once daily to keep plaque-forming bacteria at bay. They can also teach patients to recognize the telltale signs of gum disease, such as tender, swollen, and red gums or episodes of bleeding after brushing or flossing.

Fortunately for those who already have periodontal disease, the condition is easily treated once a diagnosis is reached. Treatment can usually be completed within 4 dental visits, according to Dr. Hart. For this reason, he says, “all women should be encouraged to see their dentist to have any gum disease treated before trying to conceive.”

For more information about oral health and oral self-care, see:

  • The Pharmacist’s Guide to Oral Health (2-credit CE Activity)
  • Diabetes and Oral Health Care (PharmacyTimes.com)
  • Pharmacist-Recommended Oral Care Products (OTCGuide.net)
  • Pregnancy and Oral Health (American Dental Association)

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • From OTC Picks to Rx Mixups, Twitter Tells All
  • HHS Lays Groundwork for Insurance Exchanges