Haims: Oral hygiene links to rheumatoid arthritis | VailDaily.com

Haims: Oral hygiene links to rheumatoid arthritis

I am quite sure that most of us have seen television commercials where a senior citizen addresses a group of other seniors promoting a medication that helps relieve any number of issues. The pharmaceutical industry spends millions of marketing dollars publicizing a plethora of ailments anyone of us might just have.

Not long ago, I saw a commercial intended for people who may suffer pain and discomfort from rheumatoid arthritis. This particular commercial and its timing interested me because around the same time I accompanied a client to a medial appointment to address concerns of 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 little knowledge of the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and gum disease.

Listening to doctors ask medical and health questions to their patients is always educational for me. Often, I pick up bits and pieces of information that may relate to other clients. During this office visit, not only did I become interested in the questions the doctor posed to her patient about their oral hygiene, but my interest became really piqued when the doctor inspected the patient’s teeth.

Unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I asked the doctor why she was addressing the patient’s oral hygiene. Her response was quite interesting, and I’d like to share what I had learned. I learned that people with rheumatoid arthritis quite frequently have oral hygiene issues.

For anyone that does not know much about rheumatoid arthritis, it’s an auto-immune disease where the immune system triggers inflammation even though there are no foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria to fight off. When this happens, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and soft tissue throughout the body.

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The connection between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis becomes quite clear when you consider that almost three quarters of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis have gum disease and/or accumulation of oral bacteria — specifically, a bacterium called Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans. Conversely, according to a study from Johns Hopkins, less than 11% of people who do don’t have an Aa infection have rheumatoid arthritis.

Obviously, we all should practice sound dental care to protect our 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 joint issues stemming from rheumatoid arthritis. As such, frequently these people leave greater amounts of plaque behind after brushing their teeth.

Here are some tips offered by the American Dental Association that may assist those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in their quest for better dental care:

  • Visit your dentist with greater frequency as they are able to give your teeth a thorough cleaning and remove any hardened plaque.
  • Experiment with new types of floss. Try floss holders, floss picks or threaders.
  • 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 issues and condition.

While researchers are unsure as to the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, we do know that there are certain medical conditions that have association. Oral hygiene is one such association. If you have bleeding gums, toothache and biting difficulties, you may want to inquire if such conditions may leave you vulnerable to rheumatoid arthritis

Oral hygiene is a real concern that extends beyond the obvious. Last week, I read an interesting article from CU Anschutz, “Can Flossing Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and Strokes?” The article addressed not only oral care and rheumatoid arthritis, but also the association between oral care, Alzheimer’s and stroke. The article is quite informative and explains how inflammation caused by poor oral care plays a role in both Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Intrigued about these associations, I sought additional research and found an article from the American Heart Association titled, “Poor oral health may contribute to declines in brain health.” The article very clearly explains how poor oral health may cause cognitive decline. Find the time — the article is a great read.

It seems that the correlation between oral care, brain health and stoke is so relative that the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference is addressing the concern this coming weekend, Feb. 8-10, in Dallas.

As with many illnesses and diseases, research continues every day. Oral care affects our health in many ways. Don’t let such an easy-to-resolve concern cause permanent harm to your well-being. Be curious and educate yourself.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.  

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