By Clark Hammock, DMD; doctor, executive vice president, Dentistry of the Carolinas
Most of us would be hard pressed to think of a connection between our joints and oral hygiene, but the truth is those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be up to four times more likely to develop gum disease than those who don’t suffer from this autoimmune disease. Even worse, research shows gum disease in RA patients can also be more severe.
Can gum disease lead to rheumatoid arthritis?
One study found that 65 percent of people with RA developed gum disease, compared to only 28 percent of those without RA. Further, research out of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Oral Health and Systemic Diseases found that periodontal (or gum) disease can in itself lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
Proper dental care (regular brushing and flossing) along with regular dental cleanings could very well be connected to improved bone and joint health. For those already dealing with gum disease issues, daily use of a water flosser (such as Waterpik) can be helpful as they do a better job of cleaning below the gum line where regular floss and toothbrushes simply can’t reach.
Ironically, practicing good oral hygiene at home can be more challenging for RA patients if the joints in their hands are affected making holding a toothbrush or dental floss painful or difficult. For those situations we recommend trying an electric toothbrush, floss picks, or even sticking a tennis ball on the end of your toothbrush to make it easier to hold.s
DOC’s Dr. Clark Hammock has recently been featured in the Arthritis Services of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County quarterly newsletter. This is the second of four articles addressing oral health and arthritis.