Vail Daily column: Gum disease often accompanies arthritis |

Vail Daily column: Gum disease often accompanies arthritis

Judson Haims
My View

Most of us have seen television commercials in which a senior citizen promotes a medication that helps relieve an issue the pharmaceutical industry wants publicized. This past week, I saw a commercial that was intended for people who have rheumatoid arthritis. This particular commercial and its timing interested me. Recently, I accompanied a client to a medical appointment for their rheumatoid arthritis. Sitting with my client and their doctor during the appointment proved to be quite educational. Prior to this medical appointment, I had no idea that there exists a connection between rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease.


For those who do not know much about rheumatoid arthritis, it is an autoimmune disease in which the “immune system mistakenly triggers inflammation, even though there are no viruses of bacteria to fight off” (www.every dayhealth). Inflammation is the immune system’s protective method to fight viruses and bacteria.

Gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis have inflammation in common. With gum disease, people typically have an infection, which is often associated with redness and swelling. The immune system goes into action when it identifies an infection, thus developing inflammation to fight the infected area. However, the inflammation of this now-overactive immune system also reaches joints, which are the site of rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups. Thus, gum disease tends to worsen rheumatoid arthritis.

Historically, people with gum disease often had their teeth pulled and then were given antibiotics. Subsequently, it was not uncommon for the persons’ rheumatoid arthritis condition improved. In a report from the European League Against Rheumatism, gum disease was identified in nearly 50 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Conversely, the report detailed that gum disease was only prevalent in 10-15 percent of patients without rheumatoid arthritis.

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In 2009, an article in Scientific Daily titled “Treating gum disease helps rheumatoid arthritis sufferers” noted, “It was exciting to find that if we eliminated the infection and inflammation in the gums, then patients with a severe kind of active rheumatoid arthritis reported improvement on the signs and symptoms of that disease,” as stated by Nabil Bissada, chair of the department of periodontics at the dental school of Case Western Reserve University.

Obviously, we all should practice sound dental care to protect tour teeth. However, for people who have rheumatoid arthritis, additional attention should be given to their dental hygiene. While not always the case, often people with rheumatoid arthritis have greater difficulty cleaning their teeth because of jaw and joint issues stemming from their condition. As such, these people frequently have amounts of plaque.


Here are some tips offered by the American Dental Association that may assist those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis to better address their oral hygiene:

• Visit your dentist with greater frequency, as they are able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque.

• Reinvent your toothbrush. To better grip your brush, add a tennis ball or bicycle handle to the end.

• Experiment with new types of floss. Try floss holders, floss picks and threaders.

• Pump up your paste. Toothpaste in a pump might be easier for you to use than a tube you have to squeeze.

• Make the most of mouthwash. Buy one with fluoride to protect your teeth from cavities.

• Don’t light up. Smoking is a big risk factor in developing gum disease, and it can interfere with the success of some treatments.

• Speak to your dentist. Tell your dentist about your rheumatoid arthritis.

As with many illnesses and diseases, research continues every day. With the discoveries of new treatments, hope for longtime rheumatoid arthritis patients to find relief from this disease is building.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to or call 970-328-5526.

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