Medical research has shown a strong correlation between the presence of gum disease in a patient and a higher rate of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease and numerous other health problems. Recently, more research is pointing to a connection between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In this article, we’ll explain what the new research says and provide some tips on how to protect your gums.
RA is a systemic inflammatory disease, which manifests itself in multiple joints of the body. Pain, swelling, and redness are common joint manifestations. Although the causes are unknown, RA is believed to be the result of a faulty immune response. The CDC has estimated that 1.5 million Americans suffer from this affliction.
Gum (periodontal) disease is caused when bacteria in the mouth infect tissue surrounding the tooth, causing inflammation around the tooth. It’s prevalence increases with age. The CDC says 47.2% of U.S. adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease. That number increases to 70.1% of adults 65 years and older.
A Common Enzyme
A team of researchers from the University of Louisville and the European Union’s Joint Gum and Joints project published the strongest evidence yet of a link between gum disease and RA in the Fall of 2013. They showed how the bacterium responsible for periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, worsens RA by leading to earlier onset, faster progression and greater severity of the disease, including increased bone and cartilage destruction.
The researchers found that gum disease produces an enzyme that turns healthy proteins in the body into a form of protein called citrulline. The body’s immune system then mistakes this new protein as an intruder. The resulting reaction leads to joint inflammation and a worsening of RA.
“Taken together, our results suggest that [this enzyme] may constitute the mechanistic link between…periodontal infection and rheumatoid arthritis,” head researcher Jan Potempa said.
The Take Away
The researchers said more studies are needed to verify their conclusion. But their findings do add another reason to ensure that your gums are healthy. Here are some general best practices to do that:
- Quit smoking.
- Stay active.
- Watch your blood pressure.
- Brush, floss, and use mouthwash regularly.
- Don’t skip your check-ups.
How We Can Help Our Jacksonville Patients
Our staff is highly trained to diagnose gum disease in all its stages. We take our patients’ welfare seriously and will talk with you about a positive diagnosis, the next steps to take, and how we can solve this problem safely, quickly, and economically.