According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation every year, and this number is alarmingly rising. Malawi in Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of preterm births per 100 live births.
Until recently, gum diseases during pregnancy were directly related to premature labor and low-birth-weight babies. However, a recent study conducted in Malawi, Africa, showed that chewing sugar-free gum during the pregnancy term can not only keep the gum problems at bay but can lower the risk of preterm births.
The study is based on simple oral health intervention with around 10,000 pregnant women participants from eight health centers in Malawi. Half of them were given chewing gum with xylitol to chew for 10 minutes once or twice throughout their pregnancy.
Study outcomes showed that pregnant women who chewed the gum saw remarkable improvement in oral health and were less likely to have a preterm delivery, than women who received education alone—12.6% versus 16.5%. In addition, babies born to gum-chewing moms weighed more than 5.5 pounds (2.5 Kgs).
According to the study author Dr. Kjersti Aagaard and professor in maternal-fetal medicine and vice chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, “Oral health and rest of the body health are closely interlinked.” “Preterm births are a challenging problem, and this study is a simple intervention based on good science.”
With a lot of studies and research done in the United States for improving dental health during pregnancy with deep-teeth cleaning or scaling to remove plaque tartar on the teeth and gums, the simple chewing xylitol gum seemed more effective, Dr. Aagaard said.
Xylitol, a naturally occurring fruit alcohol known to prevent plaque formations and cavities, could improve oral hygiene. Dr. Blair Wylie, Director of maternal-fetal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, not involved in the study stated,- “Xylitol may alter the oral microbiome, leading to healthier gums, less systemic inflammation, and therefore less preterm birth.”
Though the study establishes a link between poor oral health and preterm births, it is at its preliminary level. The preliminary research was presented on Thursday, February 3rd, 2022, through a virtual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
Experts not involved with the study, including Dr. Wylie, cautioned that these results couldn’t be generalized to other groups of women because of the critical differences in the oral flora and oral habits of women in the study and women in other parts of the world. And it’s too early to say that all pregnant women should start chewing xylitol gum to prevent preterm birth.
Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, professor and chairwoman of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences, also agreed to say-
“This particular type of gum has been shown to decrease cavities, and there has always been the suggestion of a relationship between periodontal health and preterm delivery.” “Dental health is likely an important part of pregnancy health. Pregnant women should continue seeing their dentists and incorporating oral hygiene into health care while pregnant.”
However, before publishing their study in a peer journal, the researchers will have to conduct a similar study in other parts of the world, including the United States. This would help determine whether the intervention would be helpful in places where there may be lower levels of preterm birth tied to oral health.
Kjersti Aagaard, MD, Ph.D., professor, maternal-fetal medicine and vice chairwoman, obstetrics and gynecology, Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Blair Wylie, MD, director, division of maternal-fetal medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston; Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, MS, chairwoman and professor, obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, University of California, San Diego Health Sciences; Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, virtual meeting, Feb. 3, 2022