Study Shows Link Between Gum Disease and Gestational Diabetes

Pregnant women who have gum disease run a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes than pregnant women who have healthy gums, says a study from the New York University College of Dentistry.

In gestational diabetes, pregnant women lose the ability to transport glucose. Although the condition usually goes away once the pregnancy ends, women who have suffered from gestational diabetes run an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Ethnic groups most at risk for gestational diabetes are Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. 

The year-long study, which NYU conducted in conjunction with the Faculty of Dental Sciences at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, followed on the heels of a 2008 study that concluded that pregnant women with periodontal (gum) disease were more likely to develop gestational diabetes than pregnant women with healthy gums. 

In that study of 256 women at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, the 22 women who developed gestational diabetes had notably higher levels of gum bacteria and inflammation than the others.

Affiliating the study with Sri Lankan scientists had the built-in advantage of tracking 190 pregnant women whose poverty and cultural taboos forbade smoking and alcohol consumption, two factors commonly thought to increase the chance of developing gestational diabetes.

One-third of the Sri Lankan women in the study said that their gums bled when they brushed their teeth, a telltale sign of gum disease. Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake, Professor of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at NYU, reported that women with the highest incidences of gum bleeding also had the highest blood glucose levels. 

Dr. Dasanayake, who published the study’s findings in the April 2008 issue of Journal of Dental Research, said he expected the final data to show that the 20 to 30 Sri Lankan women who reported the heaviest gum bleeding went on to develop gestational diabetes.

The findings confirm what other research has shown: namely, that gum disease and heightened levels of bacteria in the mouth are strong predictors of the development of diabetes-gestational in some cases and type 2 in many others. The thinking is that because diabetes is an inflammatory condition, inflammation in the mouth could be a predictor of or contributory factor to its eventual onset.