With age comes any number of oral health problems. Elderly Americans are more likely to experience dry mouth, tooth loss, cavities and bad breath. Now, according to new research published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases (ARD), those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may also have a much higher risk of gum disease.
A team of scientists from Hyderabad, India, estimated that folks with RA are four times more likely to develop periodontal disease, a severe form of gingivitis.
RA by the numbers
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), RA is an inherited condition that causes inflammation of the joints and leads to pain and stiffness. The organization estimates that about 0.6 percent of Americans - or 1.3 million people - suffer from RA.
NIAMS adds that the condition, which usually first appears between the ages of 25 and 55, disproportionately affects women (by a ratio of about three to one).
In the new study, researchers set out to determine whether people with RA are more likely to suffer from periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease that weakens the dental roots and can lead to gum retraction, tooth loss and strong halitosis.
For their study, the team compared the dental health of 91 RA patients against that of 93 people without the rheumatic condition. All participants were nonsmokers, and none had yet taken any antirheumatic drugs. Researchers found that people with RA had more than four times the risk of suffering from periodontal disease.
The authors concluded that the presence of RA boosts the likelihood of this serious gum disease. Hence, people with the rheumatic condition may need to rinse more often with alcohol-free specialty mouthwashes as a way to minimize bacterial invasion of the gums.
What's the connection?
This isn't the first time severe gingivitis has been linked to RA. In fact, a very similar study appeared in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Periodontology. In it, a group of German oral health experts estimated that periodontitis is eight times more common in people with RA than among those without.
So, does RA cause periodontal disease? Not exactly. In both studies, scientists were careful to note that, so far, there is little evidence to suggest that rheumatic diseases directly affect gum health.
However, the two conditions are not totally unrelated. A 2006 report, also published in the ARD, found that patients with RA-related wrist trouble also tended to have more advanced destruction of the periodontium (i.e. the bone bed that anchors the teeth).
The authors suggested that certain genetic factors might predispose people to have both joint degradation and bone loss of the jaw.