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By Carolyn Schweitzer, DDS, founder of MommyInThe Middle.com, new mother at 46.

Although rarely discussed by obstetricians, there’s a risk that your oral health will affect your baby, especially if you’re pregnant after the age of forty. Studies have linked periodontal disease during pregnancy to an increased risk of premature and low birth weight babies.

Since seeing a dentist is not usually at the top of their priority list, older expectant mothers should be aware that the incidence of periodontal disease is age-related. The consequences of neglecting oral health are especially significant if you’re past your mid-thirties—the age at which periodontal disease typically rears its ugly head.

Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and bone around the teeth. About 80% of adults have it to some degree. Since it’s not painful, it’s easily ignored, and can sneak up on you. The condition is chronic, progresses slowly, appears later in life, and can ultimately lead to tooth loss.

And, it is a family affair. The problem does not end with newborns. You must also consider whether your child or children will grow up susceptible. Heredity plays a major role in whether we develop periodontal disease. So do habits like smoking and poor oral hygiene.

Periodontitis is also infectious. That is, it can be passed from one person to another via our saliva. So “perio-germs” get a free ride through the household. You and your partner get to share them as well as the kids. Not a pretty thought, is it?

In fact, the bacteria that cause tooth decay are similarly. We’re not born with them, we’re “inoculated” by our loved ones.

Are You Affected?

If you’re not seeing a dentist regularly, you might assume that you’re OK because nothing hurts and your gums look normal. Don’t be fooled. Periodontal disease rarely (if ever) hurts until reaching it’s more advanced stages, and can hide below the surface of fairly normal looking gums. The academy of periodontology offers a one-minute home risk assessment here: http://www.perio.org/consumer/4a.html# (http://www NULL.perio NULL.org/consumer/4a NULL.html)

Home assessment aside, it’s important to get a clean bill of health from your dentist. Specifically ask if you have any signs of periodontal disease. A thorough exam should include checking several locations around each tooth with a tiny little measuring device called a “periodontal probe”. This cannot be done visually, so don’t settle for a “quick look”. (Not all doctors are equally thorough).

And don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.

You can learn more about periodontal disease and pregnancy—plus other mouth-body connections –by visiting the following link to the academy of periodontology website: http://www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.baby.htm (http://www NULL.perio NULL.org/consumer/mbc NULL.baby NULL.htm)

What About The Kids?

Periodontal disease and dental emergencies can and should be treated during pregnancy since they can both threaten your baby’s health. Your dentist will know how to do this safely

Proper dental care can defeat periodontal disease before it ever has a chance to get started. Good habits start early. As my six year old already knows, “you only floss the ones you want to keep”.

Young children don’t have the dexterity to properly brush and floss, so you need to help them. At least until they can floss on their own. (I know colleagues who helped their kids brush and floss until they entered their tweens.)

Finally, set a good example for your kids by getting regular checkups and dental care yourself, as well as starting their preventive visits as soon as their first baby teeth appear.

Notes for this blog:

Dr. Carolyn Schweitzer graduated from dental school in 1984 and residency in 1985. She then practiceddentistry full time until 2003, when she took a hiatus from
her career. At 45 Carolyn learned she was pregnant (in spite of having been told it was more likely pigs would fly!) and at 46 gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She now divides
her time between dentistry, her family, and writing about life as an older mom at MommyInTheMiddle.com (http://www NULL.mommyinthemiddle NULL.com). (http://www NULL.MommyInTheMiddle NULL.com)

2 Responses to Later Pregnancy: Increased Periodontal Disease Risks Can Impact Newborns

  1. Mrs D (http://www NULL.MrsDandCo NULL.com) says:

    First of all, it is great to hear that you got pregnant at 46. I had my first at 40 and I would love to have another child.

    Regarding the health of our teeth, this has always been a priority in my life and I assumed it was with everyone else. I was raised going to the dentist every six months for a check up, and I still do this. It is like going to a chiropractor. You go to make sure everything is okay, you don’t wait until something is really wrong. We have to keep our teeth clean and our backs straight.

    My gums did start to recede a few years ago so my dentist gave me a good talk and showed me how to properly floss. By the next visit my gums were in much better shape. I have to say that if I was not seeing a dentist, I would never have known that this was happening and it would have been much more difficult or perhaps impossible to reverse.

    I take a holistic view of my health so my teeth are just as important as everything else. It makes perfect sense that poor gum health could affect your baby.

  2. Angel La Liberte (http://www NULL.flowerpowermom NULL.com) says:

    I agree with you, Mrs. D. Oral health wasn’t top priority in my family and I’ve paid for it for decades. Once things start going wrong with your adult teeth, they don’t stop. My children are recipients of that wisdom–oral health is not negotiable in our house. They must floss and brush, as well as go to regular dental check-ups. Fortunately, at the time I was pregnant in my 40’s, I was already conscious of the risks, so did not expose myself to the effects of periodontal disease.
    The thing is, how many 40+ women realize that–after all of the effort they’ve got to just to conceive–that they could be putting their newborn at risk by something they don’t even realize they have? Or, something as seemingly irrelevant as their dental health?

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