Connection Between Arthritis & Periodontal Disease

Posted on Jun 11, 2015 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease of the joints, affecting more than 1.3 million American adults. RA can lead to longterm joint damage, persistent pain and compromised function. Because RA can affect manual dexterity, oral hygiene routines at home can be difficult. Insufficient oral hygiene is the leading cause of periodontal disease, which, in turn, is the number one cause of adult tooth loss.

Research has indicated that RA sufferers have a higher incidence of periodontal (gum) disease compared to individuals with a healthy oral condition. Studies have also shown that RA patients are nearly 8 times more likely to have gum disease. However, researchers suspect that poor oral hygiene is not the only factor in an increased occurrence of gum disease in Arthritis sufferers. Study results have shown that while oral hygiene is a determining factor in acquiring gum disease, other parameters point to a deeper association between RA and gum disease.

Because both RA and gum disease create internal inflammation, a connection between the two makes sense. Inflammation is already suspected to be a correlating factor between periodontal disease and other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Even though research hasn’t proven a definitive gum disease-arthritis connection, findings increasingly show that periodontal disease doesn’t always occur as a result of RA, it may very well precede it.

The link between RA and gum disease are most prevalent when examining the joints and oral tissues. Oral tissues with the presence of periodontitis compared to tissues of RA-affected joints show a number of similarities. Research has also discovered a genetic link between the two.

Does oral bacteria trigger the development of arthritis? Does oral inflammation cause inflammation in the joints? While there is no definitive proof that one triggers the other, one study does show that treating periodontal disease can help in the prevention of RA. In a study of 40 people, with participants having both RA and gum disease, researchers found that those who who were given non-surgical gum disease treatment showed significantly more improvement in RA symptoms than those who were treated for RA only.

Of course, more research is needed to determine whether treating periodontal disease improves or even helps to prevent RA. In the meantime, people with RA should pay particular attention to oral health. If you have RA, caring for your teeth, both at home and through regular dental checkups, is important. If you have trouble caring for your teeth due to painful joints in the hands, ask your dentist or hygienist to recommend ways to overcome any challenges. Water flossers, electronic tooth brushes and oral rinses may make the task easier.

Although patients with RA are encouraged to maintain a diligent oral home-care regimen, it is highly recommended that any signs of gum disease be immediately treated by a periodontal specialist. These symptoms include gums that bleed when brushing, tender spots or pus pockets on gums, persistent bad breath, gum recession and gums that darken in color. It is also important that the oral care of RA patients is in coordination with their medical professionals.

Do you have Rheumatoid Arthritis? Begin by ensuring your oral health is at its best. A periodontist specializes in the care and treatment of oral tissues and is your expert in overcoming any level of periodontal disease. Call (828) 274-9440 to arrange a consultation.

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