There is a lot of evidence to support the connection between oral health and overall health. The connection between gum disease and cardiovascular risks grows stronger with every study. We know that there’s a mutually-reinforcing relationship between gum disease and diabetes. And we know that gum disease is linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system begins attacking the tissues of the joints. We know that people with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have gum disease. We also know that people with gum disease are more likely to experience rheumatoid arthritis. And now we’re beginning to understand the mechanisms that link these two conditions.
The first hint of a relationship came when it was revealed that people with rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to have gum disease. It seemed logical that rheumatoid arthritis might increase the risk of gum disease for many reasons.
On the simplest level, people with rheumatoid arthritis might have a harder time brushing their teeth, which would increase their gum disease risk.
Another possible reason for the link is Sjögren’s syndrome. Sjögren’s syndrome is another autoimmune disorder that is commonly seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Among its effects is a decrease in the amount of saliva production. Since saliva is your body’s first line of defense against oral bacteria, that would increase your gum disease risk.
Finally, some suspected that the real problem was rheumatoid arthritis medication. To control the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, these medications suppress the immune system, which could also increase gum disease risk.
Figuring out how gum disease might trigger rheumatoid arthritis was harder. Then we discovered that Porphyromonas gingivalis, an oral bacterium that is associated with severe gum disease, created a protein that altered other proteins in the human body. Some people have immune systems that respond strongly to the changed proteins, and once they associate these changed proteins with bacterial infection, they attack cells that produce these changed proteins wherever they find them. The problem is that many of our cells actually produce these changed proteins, and therefore become the target of our immune system.
Fortunately, there is strong evidence that controlling gum disease can help to reduce the immune system’s response, even once it’s been triggered, reducing the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have gum disease, it’s probably impacting your health more than you think. To learn more, please call (310) 275-5325 for an appointment with a Beverly Hills periodontist at Nicolas A. Ravon, DDS, MSD today.