The Gum Disease and Arthritis Connection

Gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis were first linked together in the early 1900s, when researchers began to suspect that the two had a common cause. About 100 years later, doctors at Johns Hopkins University identified the bacterial culprit. Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (called Aa for short) defends itself against white blood cells in such a way that it motivates the body’s immune system to also attack your own cells. It this way it is a primary cause of both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and certain forms of periodontal disease.

What Does this Bacteria Do?

Aa is a known gum disease bacterium and it is also found in more than half the individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. When attacked by the immune system, Aa defends itself by releasing a toxin that pokes holes in white blood cells. A side effect of that action is an increase in the number of citrullinated proteins. These specific proteins are created during ordinary body processes, but when too many of them accumulate in one place, it’s the job of the immune system to destroy them. And this autoimmune assault against citrullinated proteins, not Aa directly, is what leads to the inflammation of the joints and gums in many patients with both RA and periodontal disease.

How Does the Bacteria Get Into My Joints?

Studies suggest that Aa can move from the mouth to the joints via the oral mucosa, the lining of the gut, and the tissues of the lungs. Once in the bloodstream, migration to the joints becomes possible. As an invader of the body, Aa quickly sets off an immune response inside the joints (and the mouth). When Aa defends itself against attack, the immune system in effect gets “distracted” with attacking abnormal amounts of proteins, instead of Aa. As an additional confirmation of these findings, when doctors examined the fluid inside inflamed joints and inflamed gums, they noticed that both contained lots of citrullinated proteins and the immune system antibodies that attack them.

What Can My Dentist Do To Help?

Aa is likely migrating from the mouth to the joints, not the other way around. So eliminating your gum disease, if it’s caused by Aa, could be one way of lessening the effects of RA. Getting rid of gum disease is one of the things that our Placerville dentists do best! Schedule a visit for periodontal treatment today and you may be on the way to reducing your problems with arthritis!

Nov 30, 2022 | Gum disease, Oral Health


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