In recent years, researchers have continued to find a link between periodontitis (gum disease) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In one study, people with RA were eight times more likely to get periodontitis than people without RA. Another study found that people who had gum disease were more than twice as likely to develop RA than people without gum disease. What these and other studies suggest is a complicated, two-way relationship: RA may lead to gum disease, and gum disease may trigger RA in some people. Here are some key facts about Periodontitis, RA and the link that exists between the two:
What exactly is Periodontitis?
Periodontitis is a type of infection and inflammation that destroys the structures supporting your teeth. Symptoms of periodontitis include loose teeth and gums that are red, swollen, and bleed easily. Periodontitis develops when the plaque that normally forms on your teeth spreads below your gum line. The plaque building up between your teeth and gums causes the symptoms of periodontitis.
How does RA lead to periodontitis?
- Some medications used to treat RA may lower your ability to fight off infection, which may lead to more plaque-causing bacteria.
- RA may affect your salivary glands and cause your mouth to be too dry. Unfortunately, saliva helps protect your mouth from bacteria and plaque buildup. Without this extra layer of protection, people with RA are left with an increased exposure to gum disease.
How Might Periodontitis Trigger RA?
Doctors think that RA is caused by a combination of the genes you’re born with and events in your life that trigger those genes to become active. Periodontitis may be one of those triggers. It has been noted that a type of bacteria present when you have periodontitis has been found to cause cell changes that can trigger an autoimmune reaction like RA.
What You Can Do to Prevent or Control Periodontitis?
Although there is a call for more research on the links between periodontitis and RA, good oral health is especially important if you have RA. In order to obtain this, make sure to have a dental checkup and professional cleaning at least twice a year. Always remember the importance of brushing and flossing after every meal and at bedtime and use a toothpaste that offers extra protection from plaque. If you experience crooked teeth or poorly fitting dentures, make sure to repair both immediately (as both are harder to clean).
If you are experiencing symptoms of gum disease, be sure and let your doctor know. If you have RA, work with your rheumatologist to keep your RA under good control. You can help protect your joints and improve your overall health by keeping your mouth healthy.