Blue Shield of California is beefing up small group dental benefits for members who are expecting.

California Blue, San Francisco, now will pay for extra gum cleanings for pregnant members with gum disease and one preventive cleaning for pregnant members who do not have gum disease.

California Blue is adding the gum cleaning benefits because of studies that show that gum disease may dramatically increase the likelihood that pregnant women will give birth prematurely, the company says.

One study found that simply providing periodontal scaling and root planning could lead to an 84% reduction in premature births, California Blue says.

California Blue also is adding 4 small group dental preferred provider plans. Small employers can choose between plans that offer maximum coverage levels of $1,500 or $2,000, and between plans that include orthodontia coverage or exclude orthodontia coverage.