Healthy Living

The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease

The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease

Many diseases interact with rheumatoid arthritis, causing concern for patients and their families. Common diseases that have high comorbidity rates with rheumatoid arthritis are other autoimmune disorders. Lupus is an example of a disorder that might be correlated. Other diseases frequently associated with rheumatoid arthritis include diabetes and heart disease. Having other diseases can negatively impact the state of your rheumatoid arthritis. As such, gum disease might not be at the top of your mind for correlated diseases.

However, new evidence supports that you should be concerned about the link between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Both are chronic inflammatory diseases. In both diseases, the body attacks the cells. This has led to the curiosity of researchers to find out whether the two conditions are linked. Whether you are the patient or you are researching for a loved one, understanding both conditions can lead to effective treatment. Either way, it is a positive first step. Let’s explore the two conditions and their impacts.

Rheumatoid arthritis is rarely confined to just one part of the body. Lifelong treatment is required but there is no cure yet. Preventing any other diseases is paramount when you have rheumatoid arthritis because it can derail your health more than in a healthy individual.

Where does gum disease come from?

Gum disease, or periodontitis, typically occurs from a lack of proper oral hygiene. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, this disease is localized to one area. That can be a little misleading because gum disease is linked to many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Naturally, the body will try to get rid of the bacteria. During this process, the cells of your immune system release substances. These substances irritate and damage the gums, periodontal ligament, or alveolar bone. The symptom you may recognize the most is bleeding or irritated gums. As a result, this disease can make eating uncomfortable. Finding treatment before this impacts the teeth is vital because gum disease can result in tooth loss. Poor teeth and gums can even slightly decrease your life expectancy. This makes taking care of your oral health essential.

How one impacts the other: Research results

No one wants to lose their teeth. Tooth loss is a marker for periodontal disease. The pathology of both diseases is nearly identical. Periodontal disease may predict rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, one study in Current Oral Health Reports found that the more teeth lost, the greater the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The study found that treating both conditions improved other condition. Over half of respondents had a positive response to treatment at the sixth month mark. The worst outcomes were with those individuals who had the fewest teeth.

A different study showed that tooth loss is correlated to swollen joints. Joint inflammation was based on how many teeth the individual had. Again, fewer teeth were equated with more inflammation. The inflammation was linked to having rheumatoid arthritis. These studies are just a fraction of the many correlations of these two conditions. People with periodontal disease are twice as likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.

At first, physicians assumed the rheumatoid arthritis caused the gum disease from inhibiting the ability to fight bacteria. However, there have been conflicting studies on which condition causes the other condition. As a result, it might be best to treat both conditions. One cause might be the similarity in joints and tissues. Some of this may relate to the protein structure. Interluekin-1 is a pro-inflammatory protein found in both cases. More research is needed to find out how this protein functions.

Another cause of both may be the genetic makeup of a person. Both diseases have a strong genetic component. HLA-DR4 is a genetic type prevalent in people with both diseases. Research has found that an early marker of rheumatoid arthritis is the development of antibodies to citrullinated peptides. Citrullination is the process of a change in structure for a protein. This may seem unrelated but oral bacteria can induce citrullination. In this situation, the body attacks the antibodies. As a result, there are many linked causes of both diseases.

How prevention and treatment affects both conditions

Since oral bacteria impacts rheumatoid arthritis, treating periodontal disease helps prevent or treat rheumatoid arthritis. It is recommended that patients with rheumatoid arthritis regularly see a dentist and periodontist. Being proactive about your teeth and gums will involve more than just visits. This should involve getting regular dental exams, brushing, flossing, and eating healthy. It is also important that the regular treatment of rheumatoid arthritis takes place. Regular treatment can limit the inflammation that is damaging in gum disease. Some research has shown that treating the gum disease will help improve your rheumatoid symptoms. Since many with rheumatoid arthritis have tissue pain, keeping the gum tissues healthy can lead to a reduction in pain. Keeping up with research and trends on both conditions is a good idea. It can help you speak with your healthcare professionals about new treatments in gum disease.

On the flip side, you should also be in the regular care of a doctor specializing in rheumatoid arthritis. Having proper treatment can also save your teeth. Having a pragmatic approach to treating the whole body can prevent many conditions, mental and physical. In order to do so, following a treatment plan is essential. This plan should include medication, physical therapy, a healthy diet, proper sleep, and other treatment options. Taking steps such as exercising regularly may seem unrelated to your gum health. However, by taking steps to mitigate any risk to your rheumatoid arthritis, you are helping your gums. With both conditions, a lifetime of treatment is required. This is because they are both chronic conditions.
Early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can delay tissue damage. This is important for your gum health, since adults cannot grow new teeth. Gums left untreated with gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis may result in tooth loss. It may be helpful to have your doctor and periodontist coordinate your care. This may help them distinguish different symptoms and notice trends.

The bottom line

If you have gum disease and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, you may want to contact your doctor. Managing both conditions is important, because you may make one worse by not handling the other condition. Proactive medical and dental care is available. Use your resources to find the best preventative measures and treatment. This can make a difference when you are having flare ups with rheumatoid arthritis or your gums.

Lastly, if you are not the patient, there are several steps you can take to jumpstart your loved one’s treatment. You can encourage healthy eating and dental practices. You can also take them to their doctors and dentists. You can serve as emotional support, as both conditions can be incredibly painful and mentally draining. With these measures in place, you or your loved one could be able to live a life freer of symptoms.


Dunkin, Mary Anne. "Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gum Disease." Arthritis Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 July 2017.
Nagelberg, Richard. "Periodontal Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis." Pardon Our Interruption. Dental Economics, n.d. Web. 13 July 2017.
Payne, Jeffrey B., Lorne M. Golub, Geoffrey M. Thiele, and Ted R. Mikuls. "The Link Between Periodontitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Periodontist’s Perspective." Current Oral Health Reports 2.1 (2014): 20-29. Web.