NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Pregnant women with gum disease may be more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those with healthy gums, researchers have found.
Gestational diabetes arises during pregnancy and usually resolves after the baby is born, but it can raise a woman's risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on. It can also contribute to problems during pregnancy and delivery, including maternal high blood pressure and a larger-than-normal baby, which may necessitate a cesarean section.
The new findings, published in the Journal of Dental Research, suggest that gum disease may be a treatable risk factor for gestational diabetes.
Among pregnant women researchers followed, the 8 percent who developed gestational diabetes had higher levels of gum-disease-causing bacteria and inflammation.
Gum disease can trigger an inflammatory response not only in the gums, but throughout the body. It's possible that such inflammation may exacerbate any pregnancy-related impairment in blood sugar control, contributing to gestational diabetes in some women, the researchers speculate.
Past studies have also linked gum disease to a higher risk of premature birth, with one theory being that systemic inflammation is involved.
Of the 265 women in the study, 83 percent were Hispanic, a group that is at higher-than-average risk of both gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The women who developed gestational diabetes were also significantly more likely to be heavier before they became pregnant, have had gestational diabetes before, and higher C reactive protein levels, a marker for inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
"In addition to its potential role in preterm delivery, evidence that gum disease may also contribute to gestational diabetes suggests that women should see a dentist if they plan to get pregnant, and after becoming pregnant," Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, the lead researcher on the study, said in a statement.
"Treating gum disease during pregnancy has been shown to be safe and effective in improving women's oral health and minimizing potential risks," added Dasanayake, a professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.
Future studies, Dasanayake noted, should investigate the link between gum disease and gestational diabetes in other high-risk groups, such as Asian and Native American women.
SOURCE: Journal of Dental Research, April 2008.