Clean mouths could halt premature births

Researchers have found that women with gum disease who have a simple scaling and root planing treatment cut their risk of going into pre-term labour by as much as 84%.

The study published in the Journal of Periodontology, builds on recent research that shows pregnant women with red, inflamed or bleeding gums are up to eight times more likely to have a premature baby than women with good oral health.

One theory is that the toxins caused by plaque, a sticky coating of bacteria that grows on teeth can enter a woman's blood and trigger an unusually fast rise in prostaglandin, the hormone that causes the uterus to contract. Periodontal infections can also lead to higher levels of tumor necrosis factor molecules -- chemicals people put out in response to infection that can also kick-start labour.

"All kinds of infections may influence whether or not a woman has a premature baby," says lead author Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat of the University of Pennsylvania.

"If you have severe periodontal disease, it's almost like the whole palm of your hand is infected and oozing with pus, but you just can't see it because it's under your gums," Jeffcoat says. "If you had that kind of infection on your hand or on your leg, you wouldn't let it go. You'd go to your doctor and have it cleared up."

-- CanWest News Service