Women with poor oral health take on average two months longer to conceive than those with healthy gums, Australian scientists have shown.
'Until now, there have been no published studies that investigate whether gum disease can affect a woman's chance of conceiving, so this is the first report to suggest that gum disease might be one of several factors that could be modified to improve the chances of a pregnancy', said lead researcher Professor Roger Hart, of the University of Western Australia. 'It exerts a negative influence on fertility that is of the same order of magnitude as obesity'.
The team asked nearly 2,000 pregnant women for information on their pregnancy planning and outcomes. They found that those who had gum, or periodontal, disease took on average seven months to conceive - two months longer than those with good oral hygiene. In addition, they found that for non-Caucasian women with the disease this period could increase to over a year.
Periodontal disease affects 10 percent of the population, and has previously been linked to heart disease, miscarriage and poor sperm count. It is caused by the common bacteria found in our mouths. If left unchecked the bacteria can cause inflammation, which causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. These spaces are an ideal habitat for bacteria to breed in, exacerbating the inflammation and making the gums bleed. As bacteria are allowed into the bloodstream the infection can spread to other organs such as the womb lining, which could then affect the successful implantation of the embryo.
Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust, the charity that publishes BioNews, said: 'It would be interesting to see if gum disease also affects the success of fertility treatment because if something such as regular flossing could improve success rates many women would welcome this low cost way to improve their chances of successful IVF'.
The findings of the research, which was part of an Australian study called SMILE, were announced at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) this month.