Researcher Sets Sights on Stopping Harmful Oral Bacteria in Its Tracks

Researchers have oral bacteria in their sights as they look at new ways to neutralize a common bacterium that's harmless in a mother's mouth but can turn deadly when it reaches an unborn child.

Yiping Han, Ph.D., associate professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, seeks to build roadblocks for the bacterium known as Fusobacterium nucleatum. Dr. Han has conducted a significant amount of research on Fusobacterium nucleatum, which creates havoc once it leaves the mouth and enters the bloodstream.

After it leaves the mouth, the invasion of the bacteria through the placenta allows the bacteria to multiple rapidly in the immune-free environment that protects a fetus from being rejected by the mother's body. The rapid bacterial growth causes the placenta to become inflamed, which can trigger preterm birth and fetal death.

Dr. Han has researched mechanisms of bacterial transport that not only have the potential to prevent preterm and stillborn births, but may have help prevent periodontal disease, which has been linked to health problems like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

In previous studies, Dr. Han discovered an adhesin protein molecule — or binding agent —; called FadA in the genes of F. nucleatum. This binding agent on the bacteria allows them to connect with receptors on cells in the mouth and later cells of the placenta. In tests, bacteria without the binding agent had less binding capability compared to those that do have it.

In this new study, "we will be able to continue a functional analysis of FadA," said Dr. Han. "We want to block the bacteria before it can do any damage. It's an upstream approach to go back to where the whole process begins and stop it from starting its destruction."

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Common Conditions During PREGNANCY

To help minimize any risks during pregnancy, here is some general advice and some common conditions to be on the lookout for:

  1. Gum disease – during pregnancy, teeth and gums need special attention. Regular tooth brushing twice daily, flossing once daily, eating a balanced diet and visiting the dentist regularly will help reduce dental problems that accompany pregnancy.

  2. Enamel erosion – for some women, morning sickness is a major symptom of pregnancy. Along with the nausea comes additional acid that, if left in your mouth, can erode your teeth. Be sure to rinse your mouth out with water or with a fluoride mouthwash to keep the acid level under control.

  3. Dry mouth – pregnancy dry mouth can put women at a greater risk for problems such as tooth decay and infections. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and chew sugarless gum to enhance production of saliva.

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