Woman talk to dentist in dental clinic

Brushing, flossing, and routine dental visits are essential for everyone, but they’re particularly crucial for people living with rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown a strong connection between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gum disease, which can result in tooth loss and other serious health complications. Here’s a closer look at what you need to know about the connection between the two inflammatory conditions.

What Comes First – RA or Gum Disease?

Although multiple studies have been done on RA and gum disease, researchers still aren’t sure which comes first. One German study showed that patients with RA were eight times more likely to acquire gum disease than those without RA. Another study published in the PLoS Pathogens journal found that the same bacterium that causes gum disease can result in earlier onset of RA, cause symptoms to progress faster and increase the severity of the disease. Experts still aren’t sure which condition comes first, and the connection is still somewhat confusing.

Inflammation is a Common Denominator

Although the link between RA and gum disease is confusing, experts do know that inflammation is the common denominator. Inflammation is a natural immune system response that occurs to fight off foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. However, when you have an autoimmune disease like RA, your immune system triggers inflammation mistakenly when there are no foreign bodies to fight off. It’s possible that infection and mouth inflammation stimulate the immune system, which can set off a domino effect causing inflammation to develop within the joints. It’s possible that quality dental care that reduces inflammation in the mouth may help reduce the severity and incidence of rheumatoid arthritis.

Treating Both is Important

Treating both RA and gum disease are essential for overall well being. In fact, research done at Case Western University found that when people with severe RA treated gum disease successfully, they saw an improvement in their arthritis symptoms. People who received treatment for both RA and gum disease enjoyed better results than those only treated with RA medications. Having a care team of both a rheumatologist and a dentist or periodontist can ensure that both conditions are monitored and treated effectively. Even if you don’t currently have gum disease, regular evaluations by a dentist to monitor the status of your gums is crucial, since RA patients do have a higher risk of this oral disease.

Dental Care Tips for Patients with RA

Proper dental care is crucial for people who have RA, particularly for those who develop sicca syndrome or Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that results in dry mouth and a higher risk of tooth decay. Sometimes dental care can be more difficult for individuals with RA, particularly in those whose hands are severely affected. Try using the following tips to make dental care easier and reduce your risk of gum disease and other oral health problems.

  • Tip #1 – Try Different Types of Floss – Floss threaders, picks, and holders can make it easier for you to handle floss for daily flossing.
  • Tip #2 – Get a Grip on Your Toothbrush – If you have a tough time holding the toothbrush, add a bicycle grip or tennis ball to the end, making it easier to grasp.
  • Tip #3 – Get a Toothpaste Pump – Do you have a hard time squeezing a tube of toothpaste? Look for toothpaste in a pump.
  • Tip #4 – Avoid Smoking – Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for gum disease. You’re already at risk if you have RA, so if you do smoke, ask your doctor about the best ways to quit.
  • Tip #5 – Regular Dental Visits – Visiting your dentist for regular cleanings can help you prevent gum disease, and those routine visits are important for catching the signs of gum disease early so it can be treated effectively.

Now that you’re more aware of the link between RA and gum disease make sure you keep up with those dental appointments. Talk to your dentist about your condition and ask for a recommendation on how often you should come in for cleanings to beset prevent problems with gum disease.