Chewing gum that boosts oral health may reduce the risk for preterm birth in pregnant people, a new study has found. Photo by Milenafoto/Wikimedia Commons
Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Pregnant people who used of a medicinal chewing gum designed to improve oral health daily lowered their risk for preterm births, a study presented Thursday during the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's Pregnancy Meeting found.
The gum, which contains xylitol, a naturally occurring alcohol found in fruits and vegetables commonly used as a sugar substitute, helps remove plaque and tarter on the teeth and below the gum line, reducing the amount of potentially harmful bacteria in the mouth, the researchers said.
Among those who chewed the xylitol-containing gum every day during pregnancy, 13% had preterm births and 9% delivered low-birth-weight babies, the data showed.
Of pregnant people who did not chew the gum, 17% experienced preterm births and 13% had low-birth-weight babies, according to the researchers.
"Using xylitol chewing gum as an intervention prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy reduced preterm births," study co-author Dr. Kjersti Aagaard said in a press release.
"We similarly showed a significant improvement in the birth weight with one-third fewer low birth weight babies being born," said Aagaard, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Texas Children's and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Globally, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely or preterm, defined as delivery before the 37th week of pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization.
Up to one in 10 babies born in the United States are delivered preterm, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
Preterm babies are at higher risk for experiencing serious health complications, both in infancy and as they age, research suggests.
Recent studies have identified links between poor oral health and increased occurrence of preterm birth.
For this study, Aagaard and her colleagues assessed 10,069 women in the South-Central African country of Malawi, which has the highest number of preterm births in the world, over a 10-year period.
Of the participants, 5,520 received basic perinatal and oral health education, while the remaining 4,549 were given this same health education, as well as xylitol chewing gum, which they were instructed to chew for 10 minutes once or twice a day throughout their pregnancy.
"What's unique about our study is that we used a readily available, inexpensive, and palatable means to reduce the risk of a baby being born too soon or too small," Aagaard said.
"There is some real science behind the choice of xylitol chewing gum to improve oral health, and our novel application to improving birth outcomes is exciting," she said.