The study found that 45% of women who entered labour early had gum disease, compared with 29% who experienced a perfect pregnancy.
Women with untreated tooth decay or fillings were also more likely to experience early births.
‘The health of our mouth can have a direct influence on many parts of our general health,’ chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, says.
‘This includes the chances of having a safer birth.
‘Many women find it more difficult to maintain good oral health during pregnancy.
‘This is because hormonal changes during this time can leave gums more vulnerable to plaque.
‘They may even bleed.’
Lower gum health scores
Women who went into labour early had gum health scores four times lower than those who had a perfect pregnancy.
Researchers, comparing the pregnancies of almost 150 women, found those who had an early labour experienced eight times more plaque.
The study has been published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.
‘Pregnant women with preterm pre-labour rupture of membranes residing in central Europe had worse periodontal status than women with uncomplicated pregnancies,’ the study concludes.
Estimates show that 40% to almost 80% of pregnant women could have gingivitis.
The study also found that gingivitis remains relatively stable in the late first and second trimester.
‘The conventional wisdom indicates that gingival inflammation increases progressively throughout pregnancy and returns to baseline levels postpartum,’ study lead, Michael Reddy, dean of the school of dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said.
‘In this study we found that the level of pregnancy gingivitis was the same for women at eight weeks of gestation as it was for 24 weeks.
‘With no significant difference in the first or second trimester.’