You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Chewing sugar-free gum cuts premature birth risk

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 03/02/2022 Sarah Knapton
The feet of a newborn baby - Reuters/Luis Cortes © REUTERS The feet of a newborn baby - Reuters/Luis Cortes

Chewing gum can help prevent premature birth and babies with low birth weights, a new study has suggested.

The simple intervention in pregnant women was found to reduce pre-term birth by nearly a quarter, while the number of babies weighing 5.5lbs or less was lowered by 31 per cent.

Decades’ worth of research has linked poor oral health to increased risk of premature birth.

In particular, the bug fusobacterium nucleatum, which is found in the mouth, has been discovered in the amniotic fluid and placenta, the sac which surrounds the foetus, in women who deliver prematurely.

The study saw 10,000 pregnant women in Malawi offered oral health advice, with half also being given xylitol chewing gum and instructed to chew the gum for at least 10 minutes once a day.

Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in many chewing gums, such as Wrigley’s Extra.

Wrigley's Extra - Alisha Arif/Alamy Stock Photo © Provided by The Telegraph Wrigley's Extra - Alisha Arif/Alamy Stock Photo

“Using xylitol chewing gum as an intervention prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy reduced pre-term births, and specifically late pre-term births between 34 to 37 weeks,” said Dr Kjersti Aagaard, an expert in maternal-foetal medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author.

“When we analysed by birth weight, instead of estimated gestational age at delivery, we similarly showed a significant improvement in the birth weight with one-third fewer low birth weight babies being born.”

Malawi was chosen because it has the highest premature birth rate in the world, between 7.9 and 29.7 per cent of all pregnancies.

In Britain, about one in 13 births are premature, amounting to 60,000 babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

In the study, roughly 16.5 per cent of women gave birth prematurely, but this was lowered to 12.6 per cent in women using the chewing gum regularly.

Similarly, while 12.9 per cent of women had babies with low birth eight, that fell to 8.9 per cent in the chewing gum group.

It suggests that 177 more babies were born at full term, and 182 at the correct weight than would have happened without the gum.

Premature babies are more likely to have chronic health issues such as infections, asthma and feeding problems, as well as being at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

It can also lead to long-term intellectual, educational and developmental disabilities as well problems with their lungs, brain, eyes and other organs.

A study by the University of Michigan found that being of low birth weight has significant negative effects on adult health, equivalent to being 12 years older when a person reaches their thirties and forties.

Weighing less than 5.5lbs at birth also increases the probability of being in fair or poor health as an adult by more than 70 per cent.

Previous attempts to improve dental health

Previously, researchers have looked at various ways to improve dental health during pregnancy, including doing a “deep-teeth cleaning” which involves removing plaque and tartar on the teeth and below the gum line.

However, despite improving periodontics, deep-teeth cleaning approaches have not proven to be effective in the prevention of pre-term birth.

“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,” added Dr Aagaard.

“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. This fits with longstanding evidence linking oral health with pre-term births.”

The research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting.

Sign up to the Front Page newsletter for free: Your essential guide to the day's agenda from The Telegraph - direct to your inbox seven days a week.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Telegraph

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon