Snap, crackle, pop! Creaky joints can be a real pain, but who would have thought that it would have any connection to your mouth? Surprisingly, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and periodontitis have a lot in common, as they both are chronic inflammatory diseases that involve the breakdown of bone and soft tissue.
What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
RA is both a chronic inflammatory and an autoimmune disease, and is often characterized by pain and stiffness. RA typically affects the joints, but can also affect the body's organs.
On the other hand, periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease. Without treatment, periodontitis can lead to loss of tooth-supporting bone, tissue, and even your actual teeth! Periodontitis can impact anyone at any age, but can be preventable. Unfortunately, 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 have periodontitis in the United States. A major cause of periodontal disease is poor oral hygiene, which leads to bacterial plaque attacking your tooth enamel. Other risk factors of periodontitis include tobacco use, diabetes, certain medications, older age, genetics, poor nutrition and obesity, tooth grinding, and misaligned teeth, just to name a few.
Gum disease can be harder to recognize because of its typical pain-free nature. However, there are some common signs and symptoms of periodontitis to look for:
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Pus between your gums and teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Loose permanent teeth/tooth loss
- Changes in your bite
- Receding gums
- Changes in the fit of oral appliances (ex: partial dentures)
Yet, It is still possible to experience no signs or symptoms of gum disease. That's just one of many reasons why visiting your dentist regularly is essential to your oral and overall health, in addition to eating healthy, brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and practicing good oral hygiene habits at home. It is important to catch gum disease in the early stages to avoid irreversible damage to your pearly whites. Remember, prevention is key!
How are the two diseases linked?
Recent studies have supported the link between RA and periodontal disease. According to the Arthritis Foundation, researchers found that tooth loss, a common indicator of periodontal disease, may predict rheumatoid arthritis and its severity. Within the study, they found that the more teeth lost due to periodontal disease, the higher the risk of developing RA. Other research has also suggested that the bacteria commonly associated with periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), may play a role in onsetting RA.
Treating one disease may help improve the other!
Researchers at Case Western University found that individuals with both severe rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease experienced an improvement in their RA symptoms after successfully treating their gum disease.
Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis may face certain challenges in taking care of their oral health. It is important to inform your health care providers, who will help provide recommendations that will work best for you. To make brushing and flossing a little easier, American Dental Association (ADA) recommendations include:
- Make your toothbrush unique: To get a better grip of your toothbrush, add a tennis ball or bicycle grip to the handle.
- Try different types of floss: Try floss holders, floss picks, or threaders.
- Pump out your toothpaste: Toothpaste in a pump may be more comfortable than squeezing out of the tube.
Feel free to contact Drs. Ali & Ali and the caring team at Wellesley Dental Group if you have any thoughts or concerns; they will be happy to answer your questions! Contact us today at 781-237-9071 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.
Your little ones and teens are welcome to visit our pediatric dentist, Dr. Derek, and Dr. Emad is happy to help with your TMJ and orthodontic needs. For wisdom teeth extractions or any other oral surgery needs, Dr. Stephens would love to help, and our gum-specialist Dr. Singh can help with your gum-related concerns.