The presence of oral bacteria in the umbilical cord and placenta of pregnant women is significantly associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, according to recent research published in the journal PLoS ONE.
For the study, researchers collected umbilical cord and placenta specimens from both preterm (25-32 weeks) and full-term deliveries and tested them for the common periodontal pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis. Among pre-term samples, 51% of placentas and 41% of umbilical cord specimens tested positive for P. gingivalis. Among the group of full-term specimens, only 6% of placentas and zero umbilical cord specimens tested positive for P. gingivalis.
Researchers concluded that the presence of P. gingivalis in the umbilical cord was significantly associated with preeclampsia, a dangerous complication for both mom and baby that is characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage. P. gingivalis in the placenta was significantly associated with shorter gestation length and delivery by caesarean section.
Researchers noted that while a mother’s periodontal disease is the point of entry for oral bacteria into the uterus, traditional clinical measures of periodontal disease do not show the potential impact mother and baby are experiencing systemically. It is therefore critically important to know what bacteria are present in order to adequately determine risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes.
P. gingivalis is not the only pathogen of oral origin that has been shown to cause problems for expectant mothers. Other common pathogens have been linked to a variety of pregnancy complications, and Fusobacterium nucleatum infection was found to be the cause of a stillbirth in 2010.
Research certainly suggests that the stakes are high when it comes to oral infection and pregnancy—conditions that are often associated due to hormonal changes. The ability of these bacteria to travel through the body makes it even more important that they be addressed at the source in a coordinated effort to avoid complications.