Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complex autoimmune condition that affects sufferers in a variety of challenging ways. While many of us are relatively familiar with how rheumatoid arthritis impacts our joints and energy levels, fewer are aware of the condition’s relationship to our oral health. RA is correlated with gum disease, gum inflammation, and tooth loss. This connection between rheumatoid arthritis and oral health has been firmly established by scientific research. While scientists have not definitively sussed out all the particulars of this relationship, what’s clear is that the fewer teeth we have and the worse our oral health is, the more susceptible we are to RA.
Teeth, Gums, and Joints
A growing body of evidence over the past several decades has shown that there is a strong relationship between the health of our teeth and gums and whether or not we develop rheumatoid arthritis over the course of our lifetimes. A study conducted between 1987 and 1998 illustrates this connection. Researchers looked at over 6,000 men and women and found that individuals with serious gum disease were twice as likely to meet criteria for RA compared with people who had healthy gums and teeth.
A paper presented at the European Congress of Rheumatology in 2012 further solidified the connection. It showed that the fewer teeth a person has, the more likely they are to develop RA. Researchers also found that those with the fewest teeth had the most severe—and least treatable—rheumatoid arthritis.
Treating Our Mouths Can Alleviate RA Symptoms
This connection has a positive flip side, though. Individuals with RA or experiencing the early stages of RA symptoms may actually be able to protect themselves from the condition by treating their teeth. A 2009 study determined that by engaging in good periodontal care, rheumatoid arthritis patients were able to reduce the severity of their symptoms. The highly encouraging study suggests that by seeking out a dentist and rigorously treating periodontitis and gum disease, individuals can actually ease the joint pain and fatigue that can become a daily struggle for RA sufferers.
Recent research indicates that we can take even greater initiative, though. We don’t have to wait until rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are severe for us to seek periodontal care. It’s clear that the healthier our gums and teeth are, the more protected we are from RA. Keep on top of your oral health—fighting gum disease, gum recession, and tooth decay—and you’ll give yourself a much better chance of leading a completely RA-free life. Do so by scheduling your next appointment with Tar Heel Periodontics and Implant Dentistry today.