Could a chewing gum in pregnancy help prevent premature deliveries?

chewing gum in pregnancy
Photo: olegdudko 123rf

Gum disease has been linked to an increased risk for preterm birth, and now new US research suggests that chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol during pregnancy may lower this risk.

The study—which was presented recently at a virtual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine—took place in Malawi, Africa, which has one of the world’s highest rates of preterm delivery. Experts are quick to caution that it’s too early to say that all pregnant women should start chewing xylitol gum to prevent preterm birth.

Each year, about 15 million babies are born before the 37th week of pregnancy, and this number is on the rise, according to the World Health Organization. Babies who are born too early have more health problems at birth and later in life than those born at full term.

Xylitol is known to reduce inflammation and improve oral health, explained study author Dr Kjersti Aagaard from the Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. 

“Oral health and the rest of your body health are intimately linked. Preterm birth is a challenging problem, and this is a simple intervention based on really good science.”

The study took place over 10 years and included more than 10,000 women from eight health centres in Malawi. All of the women were educated about oral health care and other ways to prevent preterm birth. Half of the women were also asked to chew xylitol gum for 10 minutes once or twice a day throughout their pregnancy.

Pregnant women who chewed the gum were less likely to deliver early, compared with women who received education alone. What’s more, fewer babies born to gum-chewing moms weighed 5.5 pounds or less at birth, the study found. Women also saw improvements in their oral health.

The next step, the researchers said, is to conduct similar studies in other parts of the world, including the US. That would help determine whether the intervention would be helpful in places where there may be lower levels of preterm birth tied to oral health.

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