Periodontal (gum) disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis, or RA, are inflammatory disorders. Both diseases prompt the immune system to attack its own tissues. In advanced periodontal disease, the result can be tooth loss; in RA, the effect is painful and swollen joints. Learn about the connection and what you can do to protect your overall health.
Studies show a strong connection between periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Both involve inflammation, which is a protective immune system response to viruses and bacteria. RA is an autoimmune disease which causes it to mistakenly trigger inflammation even if there are no triggers present. Joint inflammation makes brushing and flossing challenging for some people with RA, in addition to many kinds of movement.
The connection between gum disease and arthritis, however, goes much deeper. In the journal PLoS Pathogens, researchers found that the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, porphyromonas gingivalis, prompts an earlier onset of rheumatoid arthritis and increases its severity and progression.
It is important for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to brush and floss twice a day, or as directed, and see the dentist regularly. If you have RA, it is also vital to work with your doctors to find out what treatments work best for you. People who have both gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis should have an informed care team composed of both a physician and a periodontist.
If you don’t have a periodontist, you should get an evaluation from your general dentist every year to monitor the status of your gums. Research has found that when patients with rheumatoid arthritis successfully treat gum disease, RA pain and other symptoms get better.
Patients with RA must pay close attention to oral health and schedule regular dental exams. They should also follow a healthy diet and carefully brush and floss. If you have RA and stiff hands or jaw make caring for your oral health difficult, speak to your dentist, hygienist, or occupational therapist about ways to make dental care easier. Here are some tips on how you can make dental care easier to manage:
- Toothbrush: You can add a tennis ball or bicycle grip to your brush for a more secure handle.
- Floss: Experiment with different types of floss, such as waxed, unwaxed, tape style or interdental brushes.
- Toothpaste: Using toothpaste in a pump may be easier for you than a tube you need to squeeze.