Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Your Dental Health

Do you know that if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re eight (8) times more likely to have periodontal (gum) disease than the average person? In a way, it’s not surprising. The two diseases have many things in common:

  • Both are chronic diseases that have no cure (but are treatable)
  • Both occur in soft tissue areas that are near bone
  • Both are characterized by destruction of hard and soft tissues caused by inflammation-related toxins.

It’s tempting to blame the increased level of gum disease on poor oral hygiene. After all, we know that RA damages joints and causes persistent pain. Both of which can make holding a toothbrush or using floss more difficult. Yet study after study indicates that poor oral hygiene is not the only reason.

Inflammation appears to be the common link between the two diseases. Inflammation is a localized reaction to injury or infection where part of your body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, or painful. When it affects your gums, you may also notice bleeding while you’re brushing or flossing.

What causes inflammation? One school of thought says dental infections supply 300-400 pathogens that can circulate throughout your body. If these substances become concentrated within your joints, it causes inflammation. Dental infections can be tooth related or gum related. Gum inflammation is caused by toxins produced by bacteria trapped near your teeth and gums.

So what can you do to reduce inflammation? Ask your dentist or dental hygienist to evaluate your brushing and flossing technique and correct it as needed. Your dental professionals can also make recommendations on modifications to or additional aids that might help you if are having difficulty with your current oral home care.

Once you have the proper technique, make sure to brush and floss your teeth regularly. And see your dentist twice a year. If you have only minor gum inflammation that has not yet progressed to periodontal disease, this may be all you need to do.

If you already have or you develop gum disease, the best course of action is to see a gum specialist, called a periodontist, for treatment. Remember that gum disease can be managed but it cannot be cured. The disease will come back if you slack off on your daily home care or neglect your dental appointments.

Treating your gum disease has an unexpected benefit. By removing the sources of dental infection, you may also reduce your RA symptoms.

Several studies have shown that RA sufferers report less pain, fewer numbers of swollen joints, and less morning stiffness once their gum disease is under control. If any of your dental professionals find a mouth problem, treat it as soon as you can so that it doesn’t become abscessed or infected. Tooth related infections will require a root canal or removal of the affected tooth. In some cases prescriptions or other dental treatment may be needed to make sure no systemic effects from the dental infection remain.

If you do not have a dentist and would like your mouth checked for inflammation, I invite you to learn more about my office at www.drjrobb.com or call me at 440-960-1940.

*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.