FRIDAY, Jan. 22, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A new report shows the first documented link between fetal death and a mother's pregnancy-related gum disease.
The patient, a 35-year-old woman, delivered a full-term stillborn baby in Santa Monica, Calif. During her pregnancy, she had experienced severe gum bleeding, a symptom of pregnancy-related gingivitis.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy often lead to bleeding gums, with an estimated 75 percent of pregnant women experiencing the problem, the study authors noted. But, they explained, bleeding in the gums allows bacteria in the mouth to enter the bloodstream and potentially infect a fetus unless it is stopped by the immune system.
In the case of this patient, postmortem tests suggest that bacteria from the mouth entered the bloodstream, traveled to the placenta and infected and killed the fetus, according to the report in the February issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Eventually, after receiving periodontal care, the study authors noted that the patient became pregnant again and gave birth to a healthy baby.
"There is an old wives' tale that you lose a tooth for each baby, and this is due to the underlying changes during pregnancy," Yiping Han, a researcher from the periodontics department at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, said in a university news release. "But if there is another underlying condition in the background," a baby's life can be at risk.
Han suggested that, if possible, women should visit a dentist and clear up any oral health problems before becoming pregnant. They should also be advised to alert their doctor if they experience gum bleeding while pregnant.
The American Dental Association has more on oral health and pregnancy.