Babies threatened by bad teeth

Health department: Dental health needed during pregnancy

— Protect your smile because your baby’s life may depend on it.

There is a new line of thought in medical science about the link between an expectant mother’s mouth and her unborn child.

It turns out oral diseases, such as gum disease and periodontal disease, may increase the chances that a baby will be born prematurely or underweight, said Dr. Vicki Edwards-Morris, the Clayton County District dental director.

When a mother gets these types of diseases, her body’s efforts to fight the disease may protect her but it can also put the unborn baby at risk.

“The anti-bodies their bodies produce to fight the infection can have a negative affect on the placenta,” Edwards-Morris said.

The research on how much of an impact dental diseases can have on an unborn child is still being conducted. But, Edwards-Morris and Board of Health spokesman Joel Hall said scientists are beginning to find links between the dental health of a mother and the likelihood that a baby will be prematurely born or underweight.

As a result, the Clayton County Board of Health is jumping ahead of the curve with a new program, called “Smile, You’re Pregnant.”

“It is open to all Clayton County women who are expecting a baby,” Hall said.

Hall later explained the health department is starting the program now, rather than waiting on the research because, “we want to be able to get ahead of it now.”

The new program is part dental exam and part dental education class. It is designed to educate expectant mothers on the threats gum disease and periodontal disease pose to a fetus.

Participants visit the health department’s offices every Thursday afternoon, from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., and dental health experts conduct dental exams on them. The dentists then offer educational advice on how to prevent oral diseases, said Edwards-Morris.

“We try to provide services to expectant parents to improve their overall oral health,” Edwards-Morris said.

The Board of Health’s dental health department is partnering with its Making Ours Moms Successful program to conduct the “Smile, You’re Pregnant” program.

Hall said mothers interested in participating in the program must make an appointment for the Thursday sessions. They can call the Board of Health at 678-610-7199 and ask to make a dental appointment.

The Board of Health offices are located at 1117 Battle Creek Road, in Jonesboro.

“It’s something we hope will be popular,” Hall said. “After a few months, we’re going to take a look at it and see how many women are utilizing the program and we may expand the clinic hours if a lot of women sign up for the program.”