Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease: Have Same Origins?

The Bone Destructive Diseases Are Linked

Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA is an autoimmune disease causing chronic joint pain. In RA, the immune system, instead of attacking the body’s enemies – bacteria, viruses, toxins – is attacking the body’s joints. The abnormal response leads to inflammation and damage of the joints. And being a systemic condition, RA may affect other organs and body systems.

Along with pain, people with RA experience fatigue, loss of appetite and a low-grade fever. RA symptoms and effects come and go, sometimes there is a period of high disease activity called a flare; it can last for days or months. During this activity, other organs can be affected – painful, red and sensitive eyes, inflamed blood vessels, lumps under the skin, and dry mouth and irritated gums or gum infection.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Periodontal Disease

Research has long recognized the link between periodontal disease and RA. Studies have shown that those with RA are more likely to have periodontal disease than those without RA. A German study, in fact, found that the rate of periodontitis was 8 times higher in those who have the autoimmune disorder. Additionally, their periodontitis is more severe and involves more tooth loss than those who do not have RA.

The link between the two chronic diseases can be seen in certain inflammatory biomarkers which both have at elevated levels. They also have the same genetic markers, present in people with both RA and progressive periodontitis. Both also have the same mechanism of action.

Periodontal inflammation damages the gums and supporting ligaments around teeth, invading the jawbone and causing bone loss. RA brings about inflammation that attacks the soft tissue that lines the joints (the synovium), progresses to the bone, eventually destroying it.

Now, of significant scientific interest is the role of a particular species of bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis or P. gingivalis, often found in both periodontitis and RA. Researchers say it can be the causative pathogen for both conditions. It is unique than other bacteria in that it contains an enzyme that the body recognizes as a foreign substance.

It may be the one responsible for the autoimmune response in RA, but if it is also found in periodontitis, could it mean that periodontal disease may have an autoimmune component, too? Certainly, more research is needed to prove this hypothesis.

Caring For Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients in Bellevue

It becomes more critical for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis to have frequent dental visits to monitor their gum health. Our team at Overlake Dental see to our patients more prone to gum disease because of their medical conditions.