If You Have Arthritis (RA), Your Oral Health Could Influence Its Severity

Posted on Feb 28, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

As a Periodontal Specialist, I treat all stages of periodontal (gum) disease as well as have particular expertise in the diagnosis and placement of dental implants. Over the years, I’ve watched miraculous progress made in the development of dental implant systems, becoming a dependable, safe and successful alternative to dentures and partials.

Where I’ve not seen much progress is the nation’s understanding of the hazards of periodontal disease. Still today, nearly 47% of American adults have some level of gum disease. And, this is in spite of research findings that have found a correlation between the bacteria of periodontal disease and a long list of serious health conditions. Because of the inflammatory triggers associated with gum disease bacteria, it has been linked to heart disease, stroke, memory loss, preterm babies, diabetes, some cancers and impotency.

In early stages, the condition causes gums to bleed when brushing, bad breath and gum tenderness. As gum disease progresses, gum tissues darken in color and pus pockets form at the base of teeth. Eventually, teeth loosen and require removal. To no surprise, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among American adults.

Research is now showing a remarkably close connection between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gum disease. While the connections may seem unlikely, it’s been determined that gum disease and RA share a genetic likeness. Apparently, their clinical structures are similiar, primarily in pathogens, which are agents that causes disease or illness. Studies have noted that the pathological processes that occur in gum disease and RA are nearly identical.

While it has also been established that both conditions cause chronic inflammation in tissues that connect to bone, researchers have found that the two diseases also have a similar inflammatory trigger. The particular species of bacteria found in periodontally-compromised oral tissues and the tissues surrounding RA joints is nearly identical.

RA is a debilitating disease that destroys joints and is disabling and painful. RA typically emerges gradually, often beginning with morning stiffness along with weak and aching muscles. Eventually, joint pain emerges with sore and stiff feelings, typically found in the fingers, wrists, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, toes, shoulder and neck.

As RA-related inflammation worsens, joints become swollen with symptoms including fever, disfiguring of hands and feet, numbness and tingling. While there is no cure for RA, treatment options may include medications, physical therapy, or even surgery to ease the discomfort or slow its progress.

Like RA, gum disease causes pain, swelling, and tenderness. As it worsens, the associated inflammation can destroy the bone that supports teeth along with surrounding tissues. One study even showed a particular pathogen associated with periodontal disease could activate the same destructive process of rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been shown that, by treating periodontal disease in RA patients, RA symptoms often improve. It is suspected that this occurs because the system has a reduced burden of oral inflammation.

An exciting fact on the findings of past research is how oral health correlates so closely to our overall health. Hopefully, as more adults come to realize that the presence of gum disease can so greatly increase your risk for serious health conditions, there will be an increasing trend on achieving and maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Begin with your own oral health and a healthy body and share this understanding with those you love. Be committed to a thorough oral hygiene regimen at home as well as a your 6-month dental check-ups and exams.

If you have signs of gum disease, seek treatment at your earliest convenience. Gum disease will only worsen and require more treatment time and expense as it progresses. Begin by calling 828-274-9440 to learn more and ask for a consultation appointment.

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