October 8, 2014 — Young pregnant women on average have worse oral health and had gone to the dentist less recently than several other groups, according to a study published in CDC's Preventing Chronic Disease, Reuters reports.
According to Peter Milgrom -- a professor of Dental Public Health Sciences and Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington's School of Dentistry -- gum disease during pregnancy has been found to be associated with certain pregnancy outcomes, including low birth weight and premature birth. In addition, Milgrom, who was not involved in the study, said that hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of gingivitis and other oral health problems.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The results included 897 pregnant women and 3,971 nonpregant women ages 15 to 44. The researchers evaluated survey responses to three questions, in which women evaluated the health of their teeth and mouth, when they had last gone to the dentist and why they last went to the dentist (Doyle, Reuters, 10/3).
The study found that 57% of pregnant women ages 15 to 24 said their teeth were in good condition, compared with 86% of pregnant women ages 35 to 44. However, the trend reversed among nonpregnant women, with 75% of nonpregnant women ages 15 to 24 saying their teeth were in good condition, compared with 67% of nonpregnant women ages 35 to 44 (Azofeifa, Preventing Chronic Disease, 9/18).
In addition, the study also found that young pregnant women are less likely than young nonpregnant women to report having gone to a dentist during the past year. Further, among both pregnant and nonpregnant women, those with higher family incomes or higher education levels were more likely to report having gone to the dentist to receive preventive care.
Senior study author Eugenio Beltrán-Aguilar of CDC said, "There are still some OB/GYNs and dentists who hesitate to give pregnant women dental treatment for fear of putting the child or mother at risk." However, he said that there is "no evidence that dental treatment harms the woman in any way."
He added that the findings on dental health disparities among certain groups, including minorities and low-income women, match "what we see with other aspects of health disparities as well."
Beltrán-Aguilar recommended that women schedule an appointment with a dentist shortly after confirming the pregnancy.
In addition, the study authors recommended that providers use prenatal visits to meet with pregnant women, evaluate their oral health and discuss the importance of dental health to health care overall (Reuters, 10/3).