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Latest Pregnancy Threat: Gum Disease

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March 8, 2002 -- Gum disease is as big a threat to pregnancy as alcohol and smoking, a five-year study shows.

Dangerous bacteria from the mother's mouth get into her bloodstream and target the developing baby. This doubles the risk of having a premature baby, says Steven Offenbacher, DDS, PhD. Offenbacher is director of the center for oral and systemic diseases at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"This work is very important because it confirms a new ... risk factor that we should be able to reduce," he says in a news release. "The fact that we're finding specific [bacteria] that can cause growth and delivery problems opens up a whole new avenue for preventive care."

Nearly one in five premature births is due to the mother's gum disease, the study suggests.

Offenbacher this week reported the findings at a major dentistry meeting.

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