Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease, but it's still a serious condition that needs immediate treatment so it doesn't worsen and cause tooth loss. However, bleeding from your gums when you floss could also lead to severe joint pain and stiffness years or decades later. Discover what the latest research says about the potential link between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gingivitis.
The Bacterial Link
When you fail to brush and floss properly for a while, plaque builds up and lets bacteria gain access to the tooth roots hidden under the gum. The bacteria known as Porphyromonas gingivalis starts flourishing and attacking the gum tissue, causing inflammation and further damage. Recent investigations show that this bacteria produces an enzyme that speeds up cartilage breakdown in the joints and other parts of the body, making RA even more disabling.
While it's not clear if gingivitis can cause rheumatoid arthritis outright, it definitely worsens the symptoms after it develops. Patients already suffering from RA also have a much higher chance for developing gum disease. Once gingivitis sets in after RA, the gum disease also causes more damage to the gums and teeth than it does for patients without the inflammatory joint disease.
It's not just bacteria creating a link between these two seemingly unrelated health problems. Research into genetic markers to find potential warning signs for RA discovered a gene that correlates with RA development. Interestingly enough, 80% of patients experiencing severe cases of gum disease also had the same gene.
This could mean that there's a bigger cause behind both diseases, or that they're both passed down genetically from parents to children. The research is far from conclusive on the genetic link. However, it's still helpful information for both RA and gingivitis patients because it means it's important to stay vigilant for early symptoms of either condition.
Aside from the genetic and bacterial connections between the two health concerns, they both involve serious inflammation. Whether it's swelling in the joints or redness in the gums, this inflammation can create other health problems like:
- Chronic or short-term fatigue not related to exertion or a lack of sleep
- Low grade fever
- Stiff and sore muscles, not just joints
- Headaches or migraines
- Weight loss due to a reduced appetite
Some researchers and doctors think the inflammation that sets in during gingivitis could trigger the immune system to become overactive and start attacking the joints too. More research is needed to see if this theory holds any water.
Protecting Your Mouth and Joints
While there's no way to prevent RA from setting in, you can take steps to keep gingivitis away. These steps are even more important if you're already diagnosed with a form of arthritis or other chronic inflammation disease. Start by brushing after every meal, flossing every day, and using an antiseptic mouthwash.
If your doctor diagnoses you with RA, schedule visits to the dentist for three or four month intervals instead of biannually. This gives the dentist a chance to catch the earliest warning signs of gum disease before it can get serious. Early treatment helps eliminate the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria before it can make your RA pain and swelling much worse.
Staying mindful of the potential and proven connections between gingivitis and RA can help you manage your current health problems and keep them from worsening. Working with both a rheumatologist and dentist is the best way to prevent tooth loss and reduce joint pain by tackling both diseases at the same time. Don't wait until your teeth are loose or your knees barely bend to start approaching your health holistically. For more information, visit a website like http://www.abigailrollinsdmd.com.