The true link between joint damage and gum disease

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease: What You Need to Know

Why do rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease often go hand in hand? Learn about the significance of the connection and what you can do to protect your overall health.

Good oral hygiene is especially important for those living with rheumatoid arthritis.Shutterstock (2)

When you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly are especially important. Studies show a strong connection between RA and gum disease, an inflammatory condition that can lead to tooth loss and other health complications, such as heart disease.

At this point, experts aren’t sure which health issue is the chicken and which is the egg. A German study published in June 2008 in the Journal of Periodontology showed that people with RA had eight times the odds of developing gum disease as compared with people without RA. A study out of the University of Louisville in Kentucky published in September 2013 in the journal PLoS Pathogens found that the bacterium that causes periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, increases the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, leads to an earlier onset of the disease, and causes symptoms to progress more quickly. And a Swedish study published in March 2016 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology suggests that P. gingivalis may be a possible trigger for autoimmune disease in a subset of RA patients. “The connection is confusing,” says Terrance Griffin, DMD, chair of the department of periodontology at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. “There are so many factors that can come into play, like oral hygiene. RA can cause you to lose some dexterity, which may mean you can’t clean your teeth as well. But that may only partially account for this relationship.”

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