Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease

older man holding his jaw in pain

The connection between oral and systemic health is growing by the day as scientists find links between the bacteria that cause oral health problems and other body pathologies. Clackamas Smiles, your first choice in Portland OR dentists, follows this health science closely so we can better serve our patients with timely information and treatments.

Now researchers hailing from the University of Louisville are pointing to gum disease as a risk factor in rheumatoid arthritis, along with the already recognized risk factors of smoking, gender, and age.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

To understand how gum disease may lead to rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to understand a little about how this disease works. Rheumatoid arthritis is called an autoimmune disease because it results from the body targeting its own tissues, proteins or other molecules thinking they are “non-self.”

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disorder characterized by chronic inflammation and pain around the small joints of the hands and feet. It can also have effects on the cardiovascular system, lungs, and present with small “nodules” in the upper arms. Currently, its cause is not well understood but several risk factors, have been determined: smoking, exposure to silica, being female, and being over 40 years of age.

Gum disease as a risk factor

What interested the researchers at University of Louisville was the presence of an enzyme called peptidylargingine deiminanse (say that three times fast) in people with gum disease. This enzyme, which we will lovingly call PD, has also been associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

The problem with PD is that it catalyzes the transformation of some body proteins into citrulline, a different form of protein linked with autoimmune reactions and inflammation. The body often targets citrulline as a problem protein and tries to get rid of it; in the process it may create the inflammatory environment associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers confirmed that the enzyme PD is indeed present at far higher concentrations in people with gum disease due to a bacterium that is unique to gum infection and not to other oral bacteria. They are positing that the higher exposure to PD could have an impact on a patient’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Oral health is important for the whole body

Connections between the disease process of gingivitis and periodontitis have also been drawn to cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and pancreatic cancer. But the good news is, reducing this risk factor is easy: preventive oral care.

Do your gums bleed when you floss or brush your teeth? This is actually a mild form of gum disease called gingivitis. Its surprisingly common, and very avoidable. Even more important: taking steps to halt and reverse gingivitis could make a big impact on your overall health!

Brushing for two minutes twice daily, flossing daily, and regular visits to your first choice in Clackamas dentist have all been proven to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease– and give you a beautiful, healthy smile.

Schedule your appointment with Clackamas Smiles today!

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