Adding to evidence that pregnant women can safely be treated for gum disease is a new study showing treatment doesn't affect the baby's health.
Hormonal changes appear to make a pregnant woman more susceptible to periodontitis, yet tetracycline - the standard therapy - is not recommended because it stains the baby's teeth.
What's more, dentists have shied away from aggressive teeth-cleaning, which is also effective, for fear it would increase the risk that bacteria would enter the bloodstream and harm the foetus.
But those fears are baseless, the new study shows.
"Women can be confident that it's not going to have clinically meaningful effects on their child's development," said Dr Bryan Michalowicz, whose findings were published online 11 April in Paediatrics.
Dr Michalowicz at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in Minneapolis and his colleagues tested more than 400 two-year-olds, who'd been born to mothers with gum disease.
Half the mothers had been treated with scaling and planning during pregnancy, while the rest had not.
The researchers found the kids did just as well on language, motor and mental tests regardless of whether their mothers had been treated.
On the other hand, treatment didn't seem to benefit the kids either. That was the researchers' original hypothesis, because earlier studies have linked gum disease to developmental delays.
"We asked the question, does treatment of periodontal disease in pregnant women improve child development?" said Dr Michalowicz. "We found it doesn't."
The researchers did find a slight increase in toddlers' test scores when the mothers' gum disease improved. But the effect was so small it doesn't have any practical consequences, they say.
Nonetheless, Dr Michalowicz said, "As a dentist I think that improving oral health is a goal in its own right."
Dr Marjorie Jeffcoat, a dentist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who has published extensively on the topic but who wasn't involved in this study, said this study couldn't rule out that treatment might benefit the baby in some cases.
"You need to have a higher risk population in order to draw a conclusion," she said. "I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that we should let periodontal disease run rampant in pregnant women." (Reuters Health/ April 2011)
Visit our pregnancy centre