Gum Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Yet another study has come out about the oral-systemic connection, published in a dental journal, yet authored by two physicians. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me see that a physician (in this case, two!) gets involved in this area.

Let me review some important elements of this study, as published in the May 2009 Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry.

Rheumatoid arthritis (which I will abbreviate the rest of this time as ‘RA’) is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by chronic inflammation. It has been associated in many epidemiological studies to be associated with periodontal disease (which we will call ‘gum disease’).

Despite this association, it’s unclear what the biological basis is for this association. However, there are now NEW INSIGHTS into this association which I will make here.

The largest of these studies examined data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Survey. It found a much higher increase of those with RA also having gum disease. No, this wasn’t just a “chance” finding, because the findings were well-scrutinized and all possible angles were identified.

In general, people with gum disease have a genetic susceptibility to getting gum disease, due to a very complex array of factors. The same is true for RA. Because both of these disease produce inflammatory proteins, it was found that these inflammatory proteins will cross the barrier into the synovial fluid – that is, the fluid found in our joints.

The chronic inflammation characteristic of these two disorders are very similar, and although they are complex and related to a number of biological factors, the development of the autoimmunity in RA is pointing directly toward the oral cavity as a major battleground.

Thus, RA may indeed turn out be preventable if a person’s gum disease is kept completely under control in susceptible individuals.

From my standpoint, it’s another one of these chronic inflammatory conditions that once again point to the mouth as a major contributor of causative agent for the development of inflammatory proteins produced by the body in response to chronic infection.

Your best bet? See your dentist minimally twice a year if your mouth is healthy, and many more times than that if it’s not. It’s just not worth the risk if you turn out to be susceptible to RA – which you may not know until it rears it ugly and painful head.

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