Strange Link Between Gum Disease and Arthritis

An intriguing connection in the world of medical research has spurred a number of case studies on the subject of gum disease and arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, affects approximately 1.5 million adults in America. This debilitating autoimmune disease causes inflammation within the joints, resulting in intense pain, diminished flexibility and, in some cases, damage to the surrounding bone.

Periodontal disease refers to advanced bacterial infection of the gums. It generally follows gingivitis that is left untreated for an extended period of time. If allowed to continue without professional treatment, severe gum disease can lead to dramatic recession of the gums, tooth loss and damage to the bones of the jaw.

The Inflammation Connection

While the precise nature of the link between these two diseases is still under research, some facts have emerged that connect them through the bacteria involved. Sufferers of RA who also reported periodontal disease were studied in an effort to pinpoint the connection.

In a study conducted by a research facility at Case Western Reserve University, the harmful bacteria found in the mouths of certain patients was traced to the synovial fluid that provides lubrication for the flexing of the knee. Because the kneecap area was already in a compromised state due to the RA, the bacteria that originated in the gums was able to more easily and efficiently reside there, attacking healthy and potentially making the pain of the arthritis more severe.

Researchers continue to examine the evidence gleaned from this and similar cases, as well as conduct additional studies, to determine whether or not one condition can be said to cause the other. At this point, it is clear that the connection does, in fact, exist and that the precautions and treatment for periodontal disease should be strongly recommended for patients with RA.

Avoiding Periodontal Disease and Its Affects on RA Patients

The results of these studies serves to further strengthen the argument that advanced gum disease does affect other areas of the body, such as the cardiovascular system and digestive system. The emphasis on proper oral hygiene has become a key component in treatment plans for arthritis sufferers in an effort to decrease their joint pain and fatigue overall.

In order to cater more specifically to the oral health needs of arthritis sufferers, the American Dental Association offers these tips for a more effective hygiene routine:

  • Because flossing and brushing properly can be exceedingly difficult for people with arthritic joints in their hands, the ADA suggests modifying the type of toothbrush used. A quality, dentist-approved electric brush with a larger handle allows for a better grip and can clean teeth and gums effectively without as many rigorous up-and-down motions
  • Rather than floss the traditional way with the floss wrapped around fingers, RA patients are encouraged to try angled floss holders instead. These plastic devices are affordable and can be found at most drugstores and grocery stores
  • An RA patient, whose immune system experiences difficulty in differentiating between healthy cells and a threat, needs extra more oral protection than a healthy individual. A mouthwash with fluoride, used two to three times per day, can help keep bacteria at bay and fight tooth decay
  • Avoid smoking. Smokers are much more likely to develop gum disease as well as a host of other medical conditions

Talk to your dentist about your RA. He or she will be able to tell you more about the ways you can protect yourself from periodontal disease, thereby potentially improving your overall sense of health and well being.

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