There’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to become pregnant. Probably the last thing on your list of priorities is seeing your dentist – but maybe you should reconsider. An interesting body of research finds a link between bacteria that live in the mouth of a mom-to-be and a higher risk for pre-term delivery. It might seem farfetched that mouth bacteria could have any effect on pregnancy but some research suggests otherwise.
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Children’s Hospital have been busy sequencing the genes of bacteria from the placentas of babies born at full-time and those born prematurely. The placenta is a mass of tissue that connects a mom-to-be with the developing fetus. It has the job of supplying the fetus with oxygen and nutrients and carrying waste products back to mom. Researchers discovered the placenta is populated with bacteria from Mom early in pregnancy and the bacteria are genetically similar to those found in Mom’s mouth. These bacteria are likely the first bacteria a developing fetus encounters. Just as importantly, placental bacteria seem to differ between babies born full-term and those born prematurely.
How do mouth bacteria end up in the placenta? One theory is they enter the Mom’s bloodstream when she brushes her teeth. From there, they reach the placenta. These bacteria have a purpose. They form the beginnings of a growing fetus’s microbiota, the population of bacteria that will live in their digestive tract after birth. Around 70% of a person’s immune system lies in the gut and these bacteria form the beginnings of the gut-associated immune system. These bacteria are also important for helping a newborn baby absorb nutrients.
The type of bacteria that populate healthy teeth and gums is likely to be different than those that live in the mouth of a person with periodontal disease. Periodontal disease refers to inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria and the inflammatory chemicals they produce. In more severe cases, periodontal disease can spread to the underlying bones that hold the teeth in place. A woman can have mild periodontal disease involving the gums without having obvious symptoms. In other words, you can have gum disease without knowing it.
Even mild, undiagnosed gum disease may send bacteria that cause periodontal disease swimming towards the placenta when a Mom brushes her teeth. Bacteria linked with periodontal disease produce inflammatory chemicals that may have the unwanted effect of inducing labor prematurely. Some research in both animals and humans shows a link between periodontal disease, premature delivery and low birth-weight babies. Although more research is needed, there’s enough evidence to suggest that a visit to the dentist is warranted BEFORE becoming pregnant.
This is why it is important to see a dentist before getting pregnant. If the placenta is populated early with bacteria, diagnosing and treating periodontal disease prior to pregnancy is the best way to lower the risk of premature delivery. So, if you’re thinking about getting pregnant or have recently become pregnant, make an appointment with your gynecologist – and then call your dentist.
Use Of Probiotics During Pregnancy
Many people ask if it is safe to take probiotics when pregnant. The science of Probiotics is new and emerging, while the advice given to expectant mothers evolves at a slower pace. For this reason, you will find medical advice and many pregnancy books taking a neutral stance and leaving the use of probiotics at the discretion of the parents.
Probiotics that contain Lactobacilli and Bifiodbacteria species, are generally considered by the medical community to be safe, and research has shown that they can be helpful during and after pregnancy. In fact, there is a growing market for prenatal supplements combined with a probiotic. We do not recommend these all-in-one supplements unless you can be sure of the potency of the probiotic (remember, if it’s not refrigerated, it will most likely be worthless dead bacteria). Instead, we recommend a good quality combination probiotic supplement containing strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus bulgaricus for expectant mothers and Bifidobacterium infantis supplementation, such as Natren Life Start for babies. If you are in any doubt, you should discuss the options with your Ob/Gyn doctor.
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