People who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at high risk for gum inflammation (gingivitis) and gum disease (periodontitis).1,2 These conditions can lead to gum damage and tooth loss and are linked to worsening RA symptoms.3 Bad oral hygiene has also been linked to a higher risk of getting RA.4-6
10 tips for healthy teeth and gums with RA
Stay on top of your oral health and prevent gum disease with the 10 tips described below. While these tips can be used by everyone, many are specific to people who have RA, such as advice on brushing when you have hand joint pain.
1. Look for puffy, bleeding gums
If you notice your gums bleed or are puffy and red, make an appointment with your dentist. Bleeding, puffy gums are not normal and may be a sign of gingivitis, which is reversible with treatment.
If the gum inflammation from gingivitis is not treated, it may lead to gum disease, a more serious condition associated with permanent gum damage and tooth loss.
2. Get a wide handled toothbrush
If you have difficulty gripping and brushing with a toothbrush, look for one with a large handle that’s designed for people with hand arthritis. If you want to avoid the extra cost, wrap your toothbrush handle in duct tape or a washcloth secured with rubber bands.
3. Go electric
Try an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes typically have thicker handles that are easier to grip. They also require less motion while brushing, taking pressure off the hand, wrist, and elbow joints.
4. Ditch traditional flossing
Daily flossing is important to oral health, but it typically requires using both hands. If flossing with both hands is difficult, try using floss holders or floss picks, which require just one hand to use. Another option is to use a water flosser.
5. Don’t squeeze the toothpaste tube
Squeezing a tube of toothpaste can be tricky if your hand joints are swollen and painful. Instead, use toothpaste that comes in a pump. Alternatively, place the toothpaste tube on a counter and press it with your palm to get the toothpaste out.
6. Avoid foods that promote plaque and tooth decay
Whether you have RA or not, eating candy, starchy foods like chips and bread, and drinking sugary drinks increase the likelihood of gum inflammation and disease.
7. Avoid tobacco products
Cigarettes, vaping cartridges,10 and other tobacco products are full of chemicals that attack gums and teeth and increase the risk for gum disease.
8. Find an experienced dentist
Look for a dentist who is experienced in treating people with rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions and knows about signs to watch out for. Make sure they know about your specific health concerns and medications.
9. Go to the dentist every 6 months (minimum)
See your dentist for cleanings and check-ups at least every 6 months. If you have signs of problems, your dentist may suggest more frequent visits. For example, if you have a lot of plaque build-up, you may be advised to schedule extra teeth cleanings in between dental check-ups.
10. Don’t forget the basics
Brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day or—ideally—after every meal.
We’re still learning about the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and gum health. While researchers know that both are influenced by factors such as genetics and the digestive tract’s microbiome,11,12 many facts are still unknown.
If you have RA, it may take extra care and diligence to maintain healthy gums and teeth. If you follow the tips above and notice you still have bleeding gums, check with your physician. They can rule out other problems, such as a vitamin deficiency and diabetes.