When you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis, flossing, brushing and seeing your family dentist in SW Portland regularly all become incredibly important. Studies have shown that a strong connection exists between rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease, an inflammatory condition that can lead to the development of tooth loss and a number of chronic health condition that include heart disease, stroke, diabetes and dementia.
While a clear link has been established between gum disease and these types of health conditions, no clear causation has been identified. In other words, does gum disease increase your risk of these types of chronic disease or are people suffering from these and other conditions at a higher risk of developing gum disease.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis were 8 times more likely to develop gum disease when compared to those without the disease. Another study from 2013 published in the journal PLoS Pathogens found that the bacterium most often cited as causing gum disease – Porphyromonas gingivalis – increases the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, leading to both the early onset of the disease and symptoms linked to the disease to progress more rapidly. Finally, a recent study published in 2016 in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology suggested that P. gingivalis may possibly trigger an autoimmune disease in a certain segment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
The Links Between Rheumatoid Arthritis & Gum Disease
Doctors may not know for certain how rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease are linked, but both disease share a common factor that may help explain this connection – inflammation. Inflammation is a protective immune system response to foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. However, with autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system incorrectly activates an immune response even though no bacteria or virus exists for it to fight off. Researchers believe that it’s possible that the immune system is stimulated by oral inflammation and infection, which results in a cascade of events where inflammation develops at the site of joints or arthritis.
Researchers suspect that by controlling inflammation through improved dental care, patients could successfully reduce their risk and the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
Treating One Disease to Improve the Other
In a study conducted by researchers at Case Western University it was discovered that when individuals with a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis successfully treated their gum disease, they were able to relieve their pain and other arthritis related symptoms. Patients who received treatments of drugs designed to treat both diseases fared far better than those who received medication that only treated rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers advised that individuals who suffer from both rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease need to seek treatment from both a periodontist and a physician so that both diseases receive equal attention and care. Since properly flossing and brushing can be a challenge for individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to determine with the help of doctors what type of treatment plan best meets a patient’s unique oral and overall health needs.
Oral Health Care Tips for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Gum disease can range in severity from gingivitis – a mild form of the disease – to periodontitis, a more serious form that causes inflammation that destroys bone structure and gum tissue. Periodontitis ranks as the leading cause of adult tooth loss in the U.S.
Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis also develop Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes oral glands to produce less saliva, or dry mouth. Patients who suffer from dry mouth have a higher risk of developing gum disease and tooth decay.
To help better protect your oral health, here are a few tips for patients with rheumatoid arthritis to follow that will make it easier to manage your dental care:
- Improve your toothbrush. To gain a better grip on your toothbrush, add a bicycle grip or tennis ball to the end of the handle.
- Try new flossing techniques. Give floss picks, floss holders and threaders a try to see which flossing technique is more manageable for you.
- Buy “pumpable” toothpaste brands. Toothpaste that comes in a container you can pump might be easier to use when compared to brands that come in more conventional squeezable tube packaging.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking presents a serious risk to your oral health regardless of what other health conditions you may suffer from. Smoking can also interfere with the success of some types of treatments for gum disease.
If you have any questions about how rheumatoid arthritis can impact your oral health, be sure to ask your dentist in SW Portland during your next appointment at Burlingame Dental Arts.