It is a mistake to think that your oral health is somehow separate from the rest of your body. The mouth is the entrance to your body. Things that are in the mouth travel into the body, entering your stomach, your lungs, or your blood.
This means that poor oral health can contribute to poor general health. The effects of gum disease on your overall health include increased risk for heart disease, stroke, dementia, even cancer.
And now, it seems, gum disease can impact a woman’s reproductive health. A new study has shown that women with gum disease may have a harder time getting pregnant if they are infected with a particular kind of oral bacteria.
Bad Bacteria Identified
Researchers in Finland looked at 256 healthy, non-pregnant women age 19-42. All the women had been on birth control, but now had stopped in order to be able to conceive a child. All women were given complete clinical exams to determine their health, which included oral swabs to genetically test for gum disease bacteria.
Researchers checked in with the women after 12 months to determine which had become pregnant. Most were able to conceive, with 205–about 80%–becoming pregnant. Not only did they find that gum disease affected a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant, but the presence of a certain bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis, made it more likely that a woman wouldn’t get pregnant. P. gingivalis was found in 8% of women who couldn’t get pregnant, but in only 2% of women who did get pregnant.
Women were then followed for 12 months to see which of them became pregnant. Most of them (205, 80%) did. But it was found that one strain of oral bacteria was much more common in women who didn’t become pregnant than in those that did. The bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis was found in about 8% of women who didn’t become pregnant, compared to only 2% of those who did.
Researchers postulated that this meant the P. gingivalis could interfere with conception. In particular, the impact of the bacteria was related to a woman’s response to it. If a woman tested positive for the bacteria and had salivary antibodies against it, she was 3.75 times more likely to not get pregnant, and if she had blood antibodies and signs of infection, they were 1.62 times more likely to not get pregnant.
Oral Health Is Whole Body Health
This study shows just one of the many links between your oral health and your overall health. It reminds us that gum disease may start in your mouth, but it doesn’t stay there. Oral bacteria can move from the mouth to the lungs via breathing, and it can enter your bloodstream to travel to your heart. It can even lead to infection of the sinuses and the brain.
And when you factor in the body’s immune response, which is associated with chronic inflammation, the impact magnifies. This immune response is likely what interferes with a woman’s chances of conception. It’s also what likely links gum disease to heart disease, lung cancer, and kidney dysfunction. And it probably plays a significant role in the risk of early death.
When it comes to conception, we don’t know that gum disease treatment will reverse the effect. However, in other situations, we know that it makes a difference. For example, we know that treating gum disease can reduce the cost of treating diabetes and can lower some indicators of heart disease risk. So it does seem likely that maintaining good oral health can make a difference.
Therefore, we recommend that women who want to get pregnant should see their dentist about their gum disease risk. It’s also a good idea for them to talk to their partner about his oral health. Men’s sexual health can also be impacted by gum disease, too.