Could Gum Disease Cost the Life of an Unborn Child?

Yes. Gum disease could cost the life of an unborn child. Specifically, an oral bacterium – Fusobacterium nucleatum –can penetrate the placenta and harm or kill an unborn child.

February is National Gum Disease Awareness Month and a fitting time to think seriously about the dangers of untreated gum disease. We have come to understand that gum disease and the related bacteria can be absorbed into the bloodstream through pregnant woman brushing teeth - SM - storyblocks -JM-03292016-Healthy-DSC 8969leeding gums. Once bacteria enter the blood stream, they can be carried to almost any part of the body.

Proof that gum disease can put an unborn baby at risk was uncovered recently by scientists from Case Western University. It has long been known that bacteria from gum disease can cause a baby to be born too small or too early. This recent case was brought to the Case Western scientists by a California woman whose child was stillborn.

This woman was aware of studies showing that the oral bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum could spread from the bloodstream to the placenta in mice. She turned to the scientists to ask if the same thing could happen in humans. She told them about the recent loss of her baby, and reported heavy bleeding from her gums – heavier than normal bleeding of gums in pregnant women – during her pregnancy.

The scientists tested the plaque cells from the woman’s mouth. They obtained samples of the oral bacteria from the dead baby’s lungs and stomach. Comparison of the samples proved the connection between the woman’s gum disease and the baby’s death.

Pregnant women are typically able to combat the oral bacteria by brushing and flossing. The same is not true of unborn babies. Because the placenta has little immune capability, it is easy for the bacteria to penetrate it and harm the baby.

In the case of this woman and her stillborn child, it was clear that bacteria from the mother’s gum disease were transmitted through the placenta and to the child. Unfortunately, this might have been avoidable.


  1. Pregnant women need to be diligent about their oral health, brushing and flossing twice daily.
  2. If there is excessive bleeding of the gums (a clear symptom of gum disease), they should see their dentists immediately.
  3. In an ideal world, women should take appropriate steps to maintain good oral health, and see their dentist for an evaluation prior to becoming pregnant. Then they should be attentive to good oral hygiene and visit their dentists during the pregnancy.

We can only hope that women of child-bearing age who want to have children maintain excellent oral hygiene practices and see their dentists regularly before and during pregnancy. It is a hard truth to learn, but gum disease could cost the life of an unborn child.

If you are pregnant or you plan to become pregnant, call today for an oral health evaluation. We can help you and your baby remain healthy. If problems exist, we will work with you to restore good oral health.