Is gum disease a trigger for arthritis?

Is gum disease a trigger for arthritis?

There are over 100 different types of arthritis, and all of them have an inflammatory component. However, a specific subset of arthritis is caused by an autoimmune response in the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The cause of autoimmune disease is still not fully understood, and there is no known cure. Still, evidence suggests that there are several biological mechanisms at play that trigger an autoimmune response.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes stiffness, swelling and pain of the joints, including the wrists, ankles, knees and hip. Research has shown that there is a link between your gum health and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (1).  This article will explain the link between gum disease Periodontitis and arthritis and how you may help prevent or manage arthritis symptoms by looking after your gums.

How does gum disease lead to arthritis?

Believe it or not, even though the research in this area is relatively new, in the fifth century, Hippocrates observed that when infected teeth were removed from people who have arthritis, their symptoms improved. Now over 20% of the population will experience some form of arthritis in their lifetime, and the understanding of Hippocrates enlightening observation is just beginning to make sense.

So what does the research indicate:

Gum disease is seen in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. In most cases, gum disease is severe to gingivitis, bleeding gums, and gaps between teeth and gums, leading to the receding of gums.

Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) has been identified as one of the strains of oral bacteria which may promote inflammatory damage to the joints through its effect on various processes related to joint formation.

Citrullination is the process that changes the structure of key enzymes that contribute to the building of the joint, and as a result, the joint is formed incorrectly, which triggers an immune response. The immune system begins to target the affected joint, which begins to damage the joint's cartilage, and as this process continues, the joint becomes weaker and weaker.

Recent studies have shown complex interactions between dental health, a person's response to infection and their immune function. Further research is needed, but it is apparent that the health of your gums plays a vital role in overall health.

Did you know about the link between rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease, which commonly causes symptoms such as dry mouth and eyes. As in this condition, a person’s immune system targets parts of the body that produce fluid such as tears and saliva. A continuous dry mouth may affect the ecosystem in the mouth leading to a build-up of pathogenic bacteria. This effect on gum health could potentially lead to the onset of RA. Anyone who has Sjogren's syndrome should take extra care of their gum health as a result.

Here is how to protect your gums naturally.

Whether you are susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis or not, looking after your gums is vital for health and wellbeing. Those with poor oral hygiene are more likely to have tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease and are more likely to have low-grade systemic inflammation, contributing to autoimmune disease. And there is more that you can do than just brushing your teeth regularly. Here are a few things you can try as natural ways to support your gum health.

  • Oil pulling. This technique is used in the Ayurveda tradition, where oil is swirled in the mouth for up to 20 minutes, preventing pathogenic bacteria from colonising in the mouth. It is best to do this daily or at least three days a week. You can use any oil for oil pulling, and extra virgin olive oil is a popular choice due to its pleasant taste. Using coconut oil for oil pulling has the added benefit of being antimicrobial, but you can also use sesame and sunflower oil.

  • Green tea. As well as green tea's other health-promoting qualities may also be effective at preventing gum disease. Have at least two green teas a day for optimal effects.

  • Saltwater. Saltwater is as simple as it sounds. A saltwater rinse may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on the gums.

  • Curcumin. Curcumin, both ingested or used in a mouth wash, has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, which help to improve oral health.

  • Brushing and flossing. This is an obvious one, but it cannot be left out when it comes to gum health. Brushing and flossing your teeth daily is essential for gum health – opt for a natural based toothpaste so that the beneficial bacteria in your mouth remain intact.

  • Omega 3 fatty acids. Eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to settle gum inflammation, possibly increasing immune tolerance and supporting immune function.

Further research on the link between rheumatoid arthritis and dental health is needed. However, if you have rheumatoid arthritis and have problems with your gums, exploring this option might be worthwhile for you now, and it has no downside.

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  1. Bingham CO 3rd, Moni M. Periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis: the evidence accumulates for complex pathobiologic interactions. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2013;25(3):345-353. doi:10.1097/BOR.0b013e32835fb8ec