Oral Bacteria Linked to Preterm Labor

Dentistry Today


Researchers at the University of Hawai’i (UH) at Mānoa will examine tissue samples from women who experienced preterm labor for the presence and type of oral bacteria. According to the researchers, oral bacteria that cause dental caries can be transmitted through the bloodstream from the mouth to other parts of the body, including the placenta, and contribute to the development of serious systemic diseases.

“The first step of our project will be working in the lab, analyzing samples of placentas to determine the presence of any oral bacteria, and, if so, what type is identified because there are many different types of oral bacteria,” said principal investigator Maureen Shannon, a UH Mānoa professor and Frances A. Matsuda Endowed Chair in Women’s Health.

“Based on what we find, the second step will be working with our research team to design and conduct an intervention study to decrease the transmission of maternal oral bacteria to other parts of the body as well as reduce transmission of the bacteria to the women’s infants,” Shannon said. 

About 40% of pregnant women experience caries, which are associated with preterm labor, preterm birth, and low birth weight. The overall goal of the research is to reduce dental disease in mothers so they won’t experience pregnancy complications like preterm labor and birth or pass the cavity-producing bacteria on to their infants and children.

“We are committed to conducting research that can have a beneficial clinical impact for Hawai’i mothers and their keiki [children],” said Shannon.

Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Filipino women have the highest rates of dental disease in Hawai’i, according to the university. By identifying the presence and type of oral bacteria found in placental tissue, the researchers hope to increase understanding about the way oral bacteria can contribute to the development of preterm labor. Determining the type of bacteria also can help in developing clinical interventions to reduce the rates of pregnancy complications and other diseases associated with caries.

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