The American Academy of Periodontology encourages rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients not to brush off daily oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. Research has found that RA patients may have a greater risk of losing their teeth to periodontal disease which is a bacterial infection of the gums.
A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people with RA were twice as likely to have periodontal disease with moderate to severe jawbone loss. In fact, they averaged 11.6 missing teeth versus 6.7 missing teeth in the control group. The joint connection between RA and periodontal disease is due to similar pathologies; damage caused by the immune system and chronic inflammation are central to both diseases.
In RA, the immune system attacks a person’s own cells inside their joints. White blood cells that are part of the normal immune system travel to the synovium (a think layer of cells that line the joints and produces lubricating fluid) and cause inflammation.
As RA progresses, these abnormal cells invade and destroy cartilage and bone within joints. Muscles, ligaments and tendons that support and stabilize joints become weak and unable to function normally. In turn, periodontal (gum) infections inflame the supporting tissues of the teeth and destroy attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold teeth into the mouth. At this point, researchers are not saying the relationship between the two diseases is causal. However, some scientists think bacterial infections may trigger the disease process in some of the estimated 2.1 million people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The straight facts: Patients with RA should continue daily brushing and flossing and regular if not more frequent visits for professional cleanings and exams. RA patients should be looking for signs of periodontal disease, such as red, swollen gums that bleed easily. The earlier you detect periodontal disease and treat it, the better off you are.
Tips for Oral Hygiene
Go Electric – use electric toothbrushes and floss holders
Grip It – wrap toothbrush handles with a sponge hair roll or PVC piple to make it easier to grip
Stay Wet – talk to your dentist about ways to combat dry mouth due to medications
Pick it Out – Try water irrigators to remove food and particles and placque between teeth