You might have seen this news item recently: a 35-year old woman, who had gingivitis (gum disease) delivered a stillborn baby at 39 weeks of pregnancy. (Full term is 40 weeks.)
Gingivitis (tender, swollen gums that bleed easily) among pregnant women is not uncommon because of their high hormone levels. Usually, the condition reverses after the pregnancy is over.
Dentists check all of their patients for signs of gingivitis. The cause of this infection is bacteria. Usually, with good patient education, regular check ups and cleanings at the dentist, and an emphasis on daily brushing and flossing, the disease can be controlled. However, if your dentist recommends further treatment the best time is before you get pregnant.
Back to the woman who delivered the stillborn baby. An autopsy revealed that a bacterial infection was the cause of death. And the type of bacteria --- was one commonly found in the mouth.
What is going on? A research team at the Case Western Reserve University’s dental school may have the answer to why some women go into early labor or deliver early. Using DNA technology, Dr. Yiping Han and the team in the department of periodontics found previously undetected bacteria from the mouth in the amniotic fluid of women who went into preterm labor. Read more about this at http://blog.case.edu/case-news/2010/01/22/oralbacteriamombaby.
How does bacteria usually found in the mouth make it to the placenta? One thought is that the bacteria enter the bloodstream when the gums bleed. Bleeding gums, a symptom of gingivitis, create an easy path for bacteria released by brushing or flossing to get into the bloodstream.
Normally, the body’s immune system can fight off low levels of oral bacteria in the blood. However, pregnant women are more vulnerable to infections. And, there aren’t many immune cells in the placenta to stop bacteria from multiplying once they get in.
The lesson from this story is that women need to take care of their oral health because it impacts them and their children.
Pregnancy gingivitis is pretty common. Ideally, women should have their teeth examined and cleaned before they become pregnant, and then they should take extra care to brush and floss during pregnancy. Once their babies start to get first teeth, mothers should be sure to make taking care of teeth a part of the child’s daily routine. That is the first step to having a healthy smile today and to keeping mom and baby’s smiles healthy for life.
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Linda Vidone, Associate Dental Director for DentaQuest. Dr. Vidone is a practicing periodontist.