First research study on maternal oral health in Bhutan

Little is known about women’s oral health in Bhutan, especially during pregnancy and the childbearing years. Maternal oral health is an important public health issue as dental caries are an infectious and communicable disease that can be transmitted from mothers to infants. This year, a team of Bhutanese researchers from Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) and Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) and the Yale School of Public Health faculty conducted Bhutan’s first-ever study on maternal oral health in the country’s three regional hospitals.  The study sought to understand the prevalence of oral disease and modifiable risk factors among pregnant women in Bhutan.  The information gathered will be used to enhance Bhutan’s efforts to improve maternal and child health.

The study showed that pregnant women in Bhutan are in need of dental care during pregnancy. Forty percent of pregnant women had active decay at the time of examination, and nearly 60 percent had a history of decay.  In addition, 74 percent of pregnant women had periodontal conditions requiring professional care.  Despite these findings, the majority of women rated their oral health as good to excellent.  However, many of them do not follow professional recommendations for good oral hygiene (brushing twice daily, flossing, using fluoridated toothpaste), and most had no professional dental care during pregnancy.

The study recommendations included the integration of dental care with prenatal care to improve maternal health and reduce the risk of mothers transmitting cariogenic bacteria to their children. The results of the study findings were shared and discussed with local providers in Thimphu, Gelephu, and Mongar.  A presentation of the study was also made at the recent International Conference on Medical and Health Sciences in Thimphu. This research was made possible by a grant from the Yale School of Public Health and support from the Bhutan Foundation.