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person holding hand in painRheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans, mostly women. That there’s a link between RA and gum disease has been known for over a century. Both are chronic diseases of inflammation, and both may result in the destruction of bone tissue. 

And if you have RA, you have twice the risk of periodontal disease. But does having gum disease necessarily raise your risk of rheumatoid arthritis? After all, a few years ago, researchers found that DNA from P. gingivalis – the major bacteria contributing to chronic periodontitis – could also be found in the synovial fluid of RA patients, far away from the mouth. 

So does one condition cause the other? A new review and meta-analysis just published in Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism provides a little more insight. 

Analyzing 6 case-control studies that looked at the association between RA and PD, researchers found consistent evidence suggesting that having rheumatoid arthritis had “no substantial effect” on the symptoms or severity of periodontal disease. 

However, having gum disease did appear to worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. 

The review also contributes to the growing body of research suggesting that treating gum disease can help improve symptoms of many other inflammatory conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, hardening of the arteries, cognitive impairments, and more. 

Dr. Reinhold Voll, whose research is a cornerstone of biological dentistry, suggested that 90% of all physical illness may be triggered or influenced by conditions in the mouth. This new meta-analysis lends additional weight to his observations – and the importance of keeping up with your oral hygiene in support of your whole body health. 

But when you’re dealing with RA symptoms, oral hygiene at home can be tougher, but simple adaptations can make it easier. If fatigue is an issue, you can brush while seated or rest the elbow of your toothbrush hand on the counter. You may also find it easier to handle an electric toothbrush than a manual one – less technique involved – and a water flosser or interdental brushes instead of floss. 

elderly woman out walkingIf you need to make your toothbrush more comfortable to hold, you might even try a toothbrush hack. For instance, have someone cut into a tennis ball to slide your brush into, or get a handlebar grip from a bike store that you can cut the bottom off of so your toothbrush can still charge. 

Remember, too, that staying hydrated, eating well, and getting the nutrients you need, especially vitamin D, are also important for oral and overall health, as is regular exercise that can be as simple as taking a walk. 

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging, but we think the rewards of following a healthy routine are sure worth it.

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