Bleeding gums are common for women during pregnancy and shouldn’t cause panic. It’s the pregnancy hormones and nothing can be done about it other than eventually giving birth.
But excessive bleeding and gingivitis are a cause for concern, as is poor dental hygiene, since the two can work together and cause pre-term birth, low birth weight babies and the worst possible outcome: stillbirth.
A new study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that a California woman stillborn fetus was the result of oral bacteria.
The report is based on an investigation requested by the 35-year-old woman whose baby died in-utero. She wondered whether the severe gum bleeding she experienced during pregnancy was the root cause. She contacted Case Western University scientists, who had published a study showing a certain oral bacteria could spread from the bloodstream to the placenta in mice, asking them to see if this was the case for her.
The researchers took samples from plaque on the woman’s teeth and compared it to bacteria found in the fetus’s bloodstream. They had a match.
Yiping Han, an associate professor of periodontics and pathology at Case Western, explained that the mother-to-be’s body can combat the effects of the bacteria, but that the special conditions of the womb make the baby more susceptible.
“Once the bacteria are in the blood, they can go almost anywhere,” Han says. “The placenta is an immuno-suppressed organ, compared to other organs like the liver and the spleen. And that makes it easy for the bacteria to colonize the placenta.”
Of course this doesn’t mean pregnant women with bleeding gums should panic. After all, 75 percent experience bleeding gums to some degree, and brushing and flossing regularly will typically prevent bacteria from entering the bloodstream.
For those who are considering conceiving, the doctors say they’d recommend going in for a pre-pregnancy checkup. Likewise, pregnant women shouldn’t avoid regular visits to the dentist.