Swollen joints and missing teeth often go hand in hand, according to a new study in the Journal of Periodontology.
“Periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis have very similar pathologies,” said Robert Genco, D.D.S., Ph.D., Editor of the Journal of Periodontology. “Damage caused by the immune system and chronic inflammation are central to both diseases. A better understanding of the biological processes common to these diseases may help us find new ways to treat them with medications that modify the body’s response to inflammation.”
In the Australian study of 130 people, the 65 people who had rheumatoid arthritis were more than twice as likely to have periodontal disease with moderate to severe jawbone loss as the control subjects. In addition, they averaged 11.6 missing teeth, compared to 6.7 in the control group.
“People with rheumatoid arthritis should take note of this connection,” said Michael McGuire, D.D.S., President of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). “They should be on a close lookout for signs of periodontal disease, such as red, swollen gums that bleed easily. The earlier you detect periodontal disease and treat it, the better off you are.”
At this point, researchers are not saying the relationship between the two diseases is causal. However, some scientists think a bacterial infection may trigger the disease process in some of the estimated 2.1 million people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Some dental professionals had speculated that people with arthritis have more periodontal disease because limited dexterity decreases oral hygiene. However, researchers in this study found no difference in plaque deposits between the group with rheumatoid arthritis and the control group, indicating that the progression of periodontal disease in the arthritis group was due to factors other than a difference in oral hygiene.