Oral bacteria in pregnant mother can infect the unborn fetus

Periodontal disease (gum infection) can spread through the bloodstream and infect the uterus (womb). This could cause low birth weight, premature delivery and infection of the unborn child. A case report published in the Green Journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reported fetal death due to infection of oral bacteria, Fusobacterium nucleatum, found in gum disease.

The mother had gingivitis and pregnancy-associated gum bleeding. Normally, our body’s antibodies fight bacteria in the blood before it reaches the placenta, but the mother experienced respiratory tract infection just before birth, which weakened her immune system. This gave way to bacteremia (infection of the bloodstream) that penetrated into her placenta (the baby’s source of nutrition).

A study at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the Case School of Medicine found injection of Fusobacterium nucleatum in mouse placenta triggered an inflammatory reaction, similar to the infection of uterus in humans. The inflammatory response brought death to fetal mice.

In the stillbirth case, the cause of death was found to be septic infection and inflammation caused by bacteria. The placenta and the fetus’ lung and stomach were tested positive for the bacteria that were present in the mother’s oral plaque.

This is the first published case of full-term stillbirth due to transmission of mouth bacteria.

The importance of oral hygiene to overall health has been emphasized in numerous studies. Dental evaluation has now become an essential part of patient management.

Oral bacterial infection has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

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