It has long been thought that the placenta was a major barrier safeguarding unborn babies from bacteria as they develop. However, a research team from Baylor College of Medicine has data showing that healthy placentas not only can harbor bacteria and viruses—they have an extensive microbiome.
In the study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers reported finding “a unique placental microbiome niche composed of nonpathogenic commensal microbiota.”
We know from previous studies that it is possible for pathogens to cross the placental barrier and potentially contribute to pre-term births and low birth weight babies. A case study performed in 2010 by researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that oral F. nucleatum was the cause of a term stillbirth.
However, this most recent study shows that bacteria and viruses not only get in but there is a large population in healthy placenta.
This discovery is a surprise in and of itself, but it was not the only significant finding of the study. When comparing the microbiome of healthy placenta to that of other areas of the body, they found that the microbial environment of the placenta was most similar to that of the mouth—more similar, in fact than the vaginal or intestinal microbiomes.
With regard to oral-systemic health, this study is highly significant. It broadens the extent to which oral bacteria—not all pathogenic—have the ability to travel throughout the body.
With this knowledge, it becomes increasingly imperative for healthcare professionals to pay special attention to the periodontal status of women who are looking to conceive in order to reduce the possibility of exposure of harmful bacteria to the developing fetus.