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woman holding her kneeWhen it comes to the mouth-body connection, we know that whole body health issues can often be traced back to problems in the mouth. And when it comes to gum disease – a condition affecting up to 80% of Americans – the links to systemic health challenges are many. 

Take the relationship between periodontal disease and radiographic knee osteoarthritis arthritis (OA) – the subject of a recent study in the Journal of Periodontology. (Here, “radiographic” means that the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis was confirmed with an x-ray.)

There are some notable similarities between the two conditions, starting with the fact that both involve inflammatory reactions. For the knee, the result is loss of cartilage, and in the mouth, the result is loss of alveolar bone, or the bony ridge holding your teeth in place. 

Another connection between OA and periodontal disease? The kinds of bacteria involved in the gum disease process have also been found

in knee joint tissues from OA patients who were undergoing knee arthroplasty without a history of joint prosthesis insertion. The pathogens identified from pre-surgical aspirates were mostly those known to cause periodontal disease.

diagram of periodontal diseaseLet’s just say you don’t expect to find those in someone’s knee. Other research has pointed to the involvement of oral bacteria in other systemic conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

In light of this, the researchers wanted to know: Is there a link between the severity of gum disease and the severity of radiographic knee OA? 

Even after controlling for a wide range of factors like age, sex, BMI, education, income, smoking and alcohol habits, caries, and frequency of tooth brushing, researchers still found a relevant connection.

Our nationwide, cross-sectional study revealed that individuals with periodontitis were more likely to have radiographic knee OA compared with those without periodontitis. Increasing severity of periodontitis showed increased risk of radiographic knee OA.

The more severe, the greater the risk. Not tough to connect those dots, is it?

But the beauty of the mouth-body connection is that it can work both ways. Just as periodontal therapy can help reverse gum disease, research suggests it also may help alleviate the symptoms of conditions linked to gum disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and yes, arthritis

When it comes to biological dentistry, we mean it when we say the best dentistry is the least. Prevention is always the place to begin. 

But should you have gum disease as well as a condition linked to gum disease, it’s important not to give up. Research shows, and patients prove over and again, that treatment can make a difference. 

Periodontal image courtesy of National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), NIH

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