Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease

Eliminating Inflammation Associated With Gum Disease Has Side Benefits

Dental assistant working on patient
Rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease. Andersen Ross / Getty Images

Starting with childhood, you have been taught to take care of your teeth. Everyone knows about the importance of having regular dental check-ups.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Benefit from Dental Care

Research suggests that people who have gum disease and also have a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis benefit from having their dental problems addressed. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients who received conservative treatment for their gum disease had reduced disease activity (as measured by self-assessment of function, number of swollen joints and levels of a blood inflammatory marker, ESR) compared with patients not receiving treatment for their gum disease.

Eliminating Inflammation

The improvement in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms was attributed to the elimination of infection and inflammation in the gums. While previous studies have linked periodontitis to RA disease activity, this study further suggests treating gum disease might work by reducing blood TNF-alpha levels.

In both diseases, soft and hard tissue destruction is linked to TNF-alpha, so researchers are hoping that TNF blockers will help periodontitis the same way they alleviate joint inflammation and damage in RA.

The Reasons

According to Scott Zashin, MD, "There are two important reasons why rheumatoid arthritis patients should not neglect their teeth. They don't, however, have to see the dentist more often than anyone else."

Reason #1 - Rheumatoid arthritis patients have an increased risk of coronary disease -- a disease which is associated with increased inflammation which can also occur with gingivitis.

Reason #2 - Poor dental hygiene can increase the risk of infection and rheumatoid arthritis patients have an increased risk, especially if they are on immunosuppressants such as TNF blockers and methotrexate.


Periodontal Therapy Reduces the Severity of Active Rheumatoid Arthritis in Patients Treated With or Without Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors. 2009, Vol. 80, No. 4. Ortiz P., et al.

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