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They Say: Bad Breath Linked to Stillbirth

By Madeline Holler |

oral-health-stillbirth-study-bad-breath2Bleeding 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.

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “They Say: Bad Breath Linked to Stillbirth

  1. Kate says:

    Wow. I’m going to have to remember to brush about fifty times a day when I get pregnant.

  2. Bad breath or halitosis can be easily elimated by using mouthwash with hexetidine or triclosan.”‘*

  3. edro says:

    weird how triclosan is in dish soap

  4. Mar says:

    Had moderate periodontitis — now in maintenance rather than active phase — from parents not able to afford dental care/checkups in my teens (once you’ve had it, you’re forever battling it, even if you put it in remission).

    Been doing this regimen: brush for 2 minutes, waterpic between each tooth front and back, floss, and alcohol-free listerine. Month 9 with twins and NO bleeding, even with my situation. With effort, it’s possible to maintain dental health during pregnancy.

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