Nov. 1, 2006 -- During pregnancy, treating gum disease might not lower the odds of premature birth.
The University of Minnesota's Barry Michalowicz, DDS, and colleagues report that news in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Other studies have linked gum (periodontal) disease to a greater chance of premature birth, the researchers note.
So they set out to see if treating gum disease in pregnancy makes women less likely to give birth early.
They studied about 800 pregnant black, Hispanic, or white women with gum disease.
The women lived in Minnesota, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New York. They were at least 16 years old (average age: 26).
The researchers split the women into two groups.
One group got nonsurgical treatments to remove dental plaque and treat gum disease between 13-21 weeks of pregnancy. They also got monthly tooth polishing and lessons in oral hygiene.
For comparison, the other women got no gum disease treatment until after they gave birth.
The gum disease treatments made the women's mouths' healthier and had no side effects.
But those treatments didn't make preterm birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy less likely.
Of course, gum disease needs to be treated. But this study showed no benefits against premature birth, at least for treatments done during pregnancy.
Maybe the gum disease treatments came too late during pregnancy to cut premature birth risk, the researchers note.
Journal editorialists go one step further, suggesting that the prime time to treat gum disease may be before pregnancy.
The editorialists included Robert Goldenberg, MD, of Drexel University's obstetrics and gynecology department.
They note that three other studies on gum disease treatment and premature birth are under way.
Meanwhile, the editorialists say the study's findings "do not support the provision of periodontal treatment in pregnancy for the purpose of reducing preterm birth."