For years scientists have speculated that periodontitis (oral inflammation caused by bacteria) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) share a common thread.
Study author Jan Potempa, M.D., turned his attention to porphyromonas gingivalis, one of the bacteria that colonizes in our plaque, resulting in a cascade of inflammation and eventually gum disease.
Although the study was done with mice, it’s very likely that this scenario may happen in periodontal patients,” Dr. Potempa explained.
Researchers are currently working toward a vaccine against porphyromonas gingivalis, but in the meantime, good old-fashioned oral hygiene is a solid defense.
In a similar study done by Nabil Bissada, D.D.S., chairman of periodontics at the Case Western School of Dental Medicine, was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology.
Here Dr. Bissada and his colleagues found traces of gum bacteria in the knees and hips of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. In two cases, the bacteria in the mouth and around the knee were nearly identical.
“It turns out poor gum hygiene can cause bacteria in your mouth to break down the barriers to your blood stream and allow it to circulate to joints that are inflamed from arthritis,” says Dr. Bissada. “The result: more pain and swelling around the joints, or a wearing-away of the bone.”
The good news is that gum disease is easily prevented by good dental care.
“Twice a year, go and see the oral hygienist to clean your teeth and remove the plaque,” says Dr. Potempa. “This is the best way to prevent periodontal disease, and to prevent the sequence leading to rheumatoid arthritis.”
Also floss every day, and brush your gums as well as your teeth, says Dr.Bissada.