Preterm Low Birth Weight Babies
Low Birth Weight Babies: High Mortality Rate
The health and financial problems associated with low preterm birth weight babies (weighing less than 2,500 grams, about 5.5 pounds, at birth) are significant. One study illustrated that these infants are 40 times more likely to die in the neonatal period than normal birth weight infants. At birth, approximately 10% of all babies are in the low birth weight category, yet these babies account for two-thirds of all neonatal deaths.
In another significant study, researchers found that low birth weight is still the number one cause of infant mortality. It also causes many long-term health problems, including an increased risk of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, chronic lung disease, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. The cost, both financially and emotionally, of low preterm birth weight babies is tremendous. In the United States, 1 in 10 births are low birth weight babies. They account for 5 million neonatal intensive care unit hospital days per year at an annual cost of more than $5 billion. But the overall cost in terms of suffering and long-term disabilities far exceeds the monetary costs of this problem.
Gum (Periodontal ) Disease as a Risk Factor for Preterm Low Birth Weight Babies
It has long been known that risk factors such as alcohol, smoking, and drug abuse contribute to increase the risk of low birth weight babies. But recent studies have provided new evidence that periodontal disease in pregnant women may be a significant risk factor for preterm low birth weight. A number of studies also suggest that 18% of all low birth weight cases may be attributable to periodontal disease. It now appears that periodontal disease stimulates the body to release chemicals that can induce labor. Study data also suggests that if a pregnant women’s periodontal condition worsens during pregnancy it will create an even greater risk of premature birth.
From a dental perspective this is easy to understand. Pregnancy increases the stress on the mother’s body and takes nutrients from the mother to provide to the fetus. Thus, if the mother’s nutritional needs are not met during this period, all aspects of the mother’s health can suffer. While any infection is a concern for pregnant women because it poses an increased health risk for the fetus it is equally stressful to the mother's health. This makes taking care of any existing gum infection prior to conception and maintaining optimal oral health an important factor.
Low Birth Weight Babies: Don’t Take Chances
I strongly encourage every woman of child bearing age to have a complete oral health examination. Your dentist should be informed of your desire to become pregnant and any gum conditions should be treated immediately. Periodic oral health examinations should be done during pregnancy to ensure there is no gum disease present. Of course preventive home care is an absolute necessity.