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Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes widespread inflammation throughout the body’s joints. So what does it have to do with your oral health? According to recent research, plenty. Like rheumatoid arthritis, periodontal disease involves inflammation, not just in the mouth and gums, but systemically. Bacteria associated with gum disease enter the bloodstream through small sores in the gums, traveling to other areas of the body, where they can trigger inflammation or exacerbate existing inflammatory processes, including the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation is a byproduct of the body’s immune response, and in some instances, it can be a sign the body is doing what it should to fight off foreign invaders like harmful bacteria. But when inflammation becomes chronic ― that is, persistent and ongoing ― the immune system can become “unbalanced,” triggering a host of negative health effects throughout the body.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Previous investigations into this complex relationship have concluded that individuals with periodontal disease are more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than those with healthy mouths, and rheumatoid arthritis patients are two times more likely to have periodontal disease. What is more, treating one disease appears to lessen the symptoms of the other.
A study published recently in Science Translational Medicine provided even more evidence for the interrelationship between these two conditions. In that study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found a bacteria associated with periodontal disease ― Aggregatibacter Actinomycetemcomitans (or Aa) ― acted as a “trigger” for activating the aberrant immune response in RA patients. In essence, the study suggests a bacterium associated with periodontal disease actually triggers or influences RA immune dysfunction.
Aa isn’t the only gum disease pathogen that’s been linked with RA. Other studies have found an association between RA and Porphyromonas gingivalis, an aggressive bacterium common in people with gum disease.
Oral DNA Testing Makes It Easy to Protect Your Health
Large populations of harmful and aggressive oral bacteria can be present before any symptoms of gum disease appear, which means you could be at risk for chronic inflammation ― or even be experiencing it ― without knowing it. Oral DNA testing uses a sample of your saliva to look for several types of bacteria associated with gum disease and systemic inflammation, then uses those results to develop a custom treatment plan as needed.