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Maureen Shannon
Deborah Mattheus

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa nursing study will examine placental tissue samples from women in Hawaiʻi who experienced preterm labor for the presence and type of oral bacteria. Oral bacteria that cause dental decay (cavities) can be transmitted through the bloodstream from the mouth to other parts of the body, including the placenta, and can contribute to the development of serious systemic diseases. About 40 percent of pregnant women experience dental decay, which is associated with pregnancy complications such as preterm labor, preterm birth and low birth weight infants.

The School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene researchers have been awarded a $39,000 federal grant from the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities through the Research Centers in Minority Institutions Translational Research Network for the study.

“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 that the overall goal is to reduce dental disease in mothers so that they will not 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 Hawaiʻi mothers and their keiki.”

Aiming to reduce pregnancy complications

Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino women have the highest rates of dental disease in Hawaiʻi. 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 can help in the development of clinical interventions to reduce the rates of pregnancy complications and other diseases associated with dental decay.

“Every day, nurses advance science and find solutions for preventable medical conditions. As leaders in nursing research, studies of this type allow us to focus on the unique needs of our local populations,” said Mary G. Boland, dean of the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. “Nurses not only provide safe, quality care to patients, but are also at the forefront of research to enhance health outcomes for generations to come.”

The study, “Placental Oral Microbiota Associated with Preterm Labor in Hawaiʻi,” is led by Shannon and Assistant Professor Deborah Mattheus. An interdisciplinary team will collaborate on the study including UH Mānoa’s Joshua Astern and University of Puerto Rico School of Dental Medicine’s Oelisoa Andriankaja and Evangelia Morou-Bermudez.

—By Desiree Uyeda

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