Gum disease plays a serious role in many systemic diseases. We know, for example, that it increases the risk of heart disease, and that it can make diabetes worse. It also seems to increase a person’s risk of rheumatoid arthritis, though this is a link we’re still exploring.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease Go Together

One thing we do know is that rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease often occur together. Studies have shown that people with gum disease are more likely to experience rheumatoid arthritis. And people with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have gum disease.

The only problem is, we don’t know which one causes which, or whether it’s a mutually-reinforcing relationship, as with diabetes.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Might Lead to Gum Disease

aging hands resting on a table cloth with flowers on it. Based on early studies showing that people with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have gum disease it was suspected that rheumatoid arthritis might cause gum disease. There were many good explanations for this.

People with rheumatoid arthritis might have a harder time brushing their teeth. This increases the amount of bacterial plaque, and therefore gum disease. Also Sjögren’s syndrome is a common occurrence in people with rheumatoid arthritis. This related autoimmune disease results in less saliva production, which leaves the mouth with less protection against bacterial infection.

Other people suspected that rheumatoid arthritis medications were the problem. These medications result in suppression of the body’s immune system, which might make it more susceptible to gum disease.

How Gum Disease Can Contribute to Rheumatoid Arthritis

The other part of the story took a lot longer to figure out. It wasn’t until fairly recently that we learned that a certain type of oral bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis, created a protein that caused some proteins in the body to change. For certain people, this change can trigger an immune response against the changed proteins, which occur not only in the mouth as part of gum disease, but elsewhere in the body as well. In other words, once your immune system identifies the changed proteins with bacterial infection, it begins to attack normal, healthy structures that also contain the changed protein.

The good news is that controlling the bacterial infection can help tone down the body’s immune response. This means that gum disease treatment can lead to less trouble with rheumatoid arthritis.

We still don’t understand all the many connections between gum disease and systemic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, but the more we understand the more important it seems to maintain oral health not just to keep your teeth, but to keep your health.

If you are looking for a Philadelphia dentist to help you maintain your oral health, please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell.