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The Link Between Periodontal Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/17/2010

It appears that rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease are connected. Learn what you can do to alleviate both conditions.

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    RA and Gum Disease

    healthy teeth It has been known for some time that people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to also suffer from periodontal disease. A study released in the Journal of Periodontology in 2001 confirmed this knowledge, showing that arthritis sufferers are at least twice as likely to have gum problems. In another more recent study, which was released in 2008, researchers found that people with RA are as much as eight times more likely to have periodontal disease. So why are rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease seemingly interrelated? What does oral health have to do with chronically inflamed and painful joints?

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    Teeth and Bones

    Looking at the two conditions at first glance it is difficult to make a connection. Researchers have assumed that poor oral hygiene due to reduced joint mobility may play a role, but there has to be more to the equation to cause such a definite link.

    Both conditions do have similarities — inflammation and a negative effect on bone tissue. With periodontal disease gums become inflamed and recede due to a build up of plaque on the teeth. As the gums swell pockets form allowing for more bacteria to thrive. One bacteria that is often present in gum disease, P. gingivalis, secretes an enzyme that destroys bone. It also happens to produce a protein that is present in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Could this bacteria be the link?

    Two researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Ted Mikuls, M.D. and Jeff Payne, D.D.S., have received a grant from the American College of Rheumatology to investigate this link as they believe that this bacteria has something to do with the connection between RA and gum disease.

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    What Can Patients Do?

    For people who suffer from one or both conditions it is important to understand that there is a substantial connection. If you have rheumatoid arthritis make sure that you are brushing, flossing, rinsing, and seeing your dentist regularly to try and prevent gum disease. Also, let your dentist know that you have rheumatoid arthritis.

    If you have gum disease, take measures to treat it right away whether you have arthritis or not. Talk to your dentist, improve your oral care, improve your diet, and massage your gums regularly. A study done by the department of periodontics at the Case Western Reserve University actually found that the non-surgical treatment of gum disease relieves the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. So by improving one condition you may be able to help treat both diseases.

    Rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease are connected. While one may contribute to another, it is just as likely that the treatment of one can relieve the other. Take care of your well-being, address both conditions, and talk to your doctor and your dentist about your health.

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    American Academy of Periodontology <> <>

    University of Nebraska Medical Center <>

    Web MD <>

    photo by David Shankbone