Columbia research explores impact of gum disease therapy on pregnancy

Study shows treating gum disease during pregnancy does not improve pregnancy outcomes, but is safe -- Further research needed to recommend more specific treatment guidelines for pregnant women

NEW YORK, November 1, 2006 -- A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that treatment for periodontal disease in pregnant women does not result in a lower rate of adverse pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth and low birth weight. At the same time, the study showed that periodontal treatment during pregnancy is safe. The researchers recommend additional studies to assess the potential benefits of the treatment.

Periodontal disease occurs when infection of the gums goes untreated and inflammation spreads to the tissues that support the teeth, ultimately leading to tooth loss.

This multi-center trial studied two groups of pregnant women with gum disease, one that received therapy during pregnancy, and a control group that was not treated until after delivery. Columbia University researchers from the College of Dental Medicine and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Harlem Hospital together with colleagues at three other institutions hypothesized that periodontal treatment would result in a reduced number of preterm births in women who were treated for gum disease. However, the results did not demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in outcomes in the treated group.

"Although our findings do not corroborate our original hypothesis, they clearly show that treating periodontal disease does not have a negative impact on pregnancy outcomes. There are a number of additional variables that we must continue to examine in order to definitively answer the question of whether treating periodontal disease can improve pregnancy outcomes," said Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Division of periodontics in the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, and an investigator on the trial.

According to Dr. Papapanou, additional studies will need to be carried out in order to make more specific treatment recommendations for pregnant women with periodontitis. These studies will need to consider the timing of the intervention and the intensity of the intervention, as well as a broader scope of adverse outcomes, including late miscarriage, early still birth, and spontaneous preterm birth.

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The study was supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Click here for the NIDCR press release on the study. The other participating centers were Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn., University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., and University of Mississippi/Jackson Medical Mall in Jackson, Miss.

The College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, founded in 1917, is located in northern Manhattan. In addition to providing education programs for pre- and post-doctoral candidates, CDM conducts research in state-of-the-art facilities and oversees an extensive community-based service program for residents in the surrounding community a federally designated medical and dental manpower shortage area. Outreach into the community includes dental programs in seven area public schools, a dental van, and three off-site community-based dental clinics, providing state-of-the-art care to an underserved population as well as a rich learning environment for students at CDM. Visit us on the web: http://dental.columbia.edu

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, nurses, dentists, and public health professionals at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Mailman School of Public Health, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. www.cumc.columbia.edu


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