Research suggests that taking care of your teeth may be a good way to take care of your joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be up to four times more likely to have gum disease than people without this autoimmune disease. What’s more, gum disease is often more severe in people with RA. There is a growing body of evidence linking oral health to systemic diseases including RA. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have immune systems which misfire against their own joints and tissues, causing inflammation, joint damage, and pain.
Recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology has revealed that gum disease (an infection which erodes the bone that supports teeth) can create changes in the body that increase susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis. The study was carried out in the University of Glasgow by scientist David Lappin and his colleagues. “Periodontitis (gum disease) may impact on rheumatoid arthritis initiation and progression. Understanding such a relationship will be crucial to improving preventative and therapeutic strategies for both diseases independently and in combination. This could be an important discovery, given that gum disease is an extremely common ailment that is estimated to affect around ten to 15 per cent of the world’s population” Mr Lappin said.
Is it the stiff painful hands that make tooth cleaning more difficult or the RA medications that suppress the immune system making it harder to fight harmful bacteria, which links these two diseases together? Well researchers found that reduced oral hygiene and drugs alone did not explain the increased risk. About a decade ago scientists began to understand that one of the early markers of RA is the development of antibodies to citrullinated peptides. Mouth bacterias have been found to induce the process that causes these antibodies to be produced. The presence of these antibodies is associated with more severe RA. So it seems likely that reducing gum disease could help with arthritis management. If you have RA, the message is to take care of your teeth. Schedule regular dental exams, eat healthfully, brush and floss and, if you have trouble taking care of your teeth due to stiff, painful hands, speak to your dentist or occupational therapist about ways to make dental care easier, including using specially designed devices.