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Mom's Mouth Germs Could Spur Premature Birth

Tooth decay bacteria may travel to uterus, researcher suspects

WEDNESDAY, March 23, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women with poor oral health are more likely to deliver prematurely, researchers report.

Their study of nearly 300 women found a significant association between high levels of an oral bacterium, Actinomyces naeslundii genospecies 2 -- associated with tooth decay -- and risk of delivering preterm low birth weight babies.

This is the first research to link preterm delivery with oral bacteria other than the bacteria that cause gum disease. The findings add to growing evidence that a woman's oral health affects the health of her newborn.

A tenfold increase in bacterial levels was associated with a 60-gram decrease in birth weight and about a 1.19 day decrease in the length of pregnancy, researchers at the New York University College of Dentistry report in the latest issue of the Journal of Periodontology.

In a prepared statement, lead researcher Dr. Ananda P. Dasanayake hypothesized that oral bacteria associated with tooth decay and cavities may travel to the uterus. Once in the uterus, the bacteria, along with molecules called proinflammatory mediators (released by the body in response to the bacteria), could lead to uterine contractions and cervical dilation.

She speculated that when the cervix is dilated, more bacteria enter -- eventually causing the uterine membranes to rupture, resulting in preterm birth.

More information

The American Academy of Periodontology has more about the mouth-body connection.

SOURCE: New York University, news release, March 23, 2005
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