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A simple daily routine which takes less than five minutes — using mouthwash ­— might help pregnant women freshen their breath and also avoid giving birth prematurely.

The School of Dental Medicine announced last week that a preliminary study found that rinsing regularly with mouthwash was linked to a decreased rate of incidence of preterm births.

The study, led by Penn Dental professor Marjorie Jeffcoat and Perelman School of Medicine professor Samuel Parry, was published online in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in October.

Different motivations drove two researchers to initiate the study.

Investigators started reporting that women with gum diseases were more likely to give birth prematurely, according to Parry. Numerous clinical trials, which adopted dental procedures such as scaling to decrease the number of premature babies, were conducted.

But the risk did not decrease, which led Penn professors to investigate whether using an anti-bacterial mouthrinse everyday might be beneficial.

Jeffcoat remembers her experience as a resident a long time ago when she treated a woman who had just given birth and had tooth problems.

As time passed, she noticed that mothers with premature babies often seemed to have periodontal disease, an infection of the mouth that causes gum inflammation.

The team started the study after finding a suitable mouthwash, produced by Proctor and Gamble, which did not contain alcohol.

The observed group contained 226 patients ­— women who were pregnant between 6 and 20 weeks, with gum disease and refused to use dental procedures — were divided into two groups. 71 women rinsed their mouth for 30 seconds, twice a day, while the other group of 155 patients did not.

After more than two years of examining patients, the team found out that the group who received daily rinse had fewer preterm births.

“When you go to see patients, your team should also convince people that you will take good care of them,” Jeffcoat said. “And you will get a good data while caring them.”

Interdisciplinary effort across different Penn Schools was also key to this research.

“These are kinds of collaboration that foster outstanding research,” Parry said. “I believe that this is the strength of Penn that we have outstanding people in different departments to work and collaborate together.”

Since this research was a pilot study with small number of participants, both Parry and Jeffcoat are planning to conduct this research with a larger number of randomized patients.

“We are planning to repeat this in other parts of the country with different patients and subjects, which will involve more than one university, to see the impact on the number of premature babies and to see the impact on the gums,” Jeffcoat said.

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