As anyone diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis knows, the condition can be complicated and mysterious. One of the mysteries of rheumatoid arthritis is how or why it’s connected to your oral health.
There’s no doubt about this connection—numerous studies have shown that people with rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk for gum inflammation (gingivitis) and gum disease (periodontitis). Evidence suggests that genetic and inflammatory markers increase risk for both rheumatoid arthritis and dental problems.
Fortunately, taking care of your teeth and gums not only preserves your oral health, but may also improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms like joint pain and stiffness. This was the finding from a small study.1
10 Tips for Caring for Your Teeth and Gums
These tips can help people with rheumatoid arthritis stay on top of their dental health and prevent gum disease:
- See your dentist for cleanings and check-ups at least every 6 months. If you have signs of gum problems, you may need more frequent visits.
- Find a dentist who is experienced in treating people with rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, so they know about your specific health concerns, medications, and signs to watch out for.
- Brush and floss your teeth twice a day, or ideally after every meal.
- If you have difficulty gripping a toothbrush, use a modified version with a larger, cushy handle. You can find options from online retailers or make your own by attaching a toothbrush to a bicycle or hairbrush handle.
- If flossing is difficult as well, try floss holders or floss picks.
- Use toothpaste that comes in a pump if squeezing the tube is troublesome.
- Watch for signs of gingivitis (gums that bleed or are puffy and red), and make an appointment with your dentist if they occur. Gingivitis is fully reversible with treatment, but if left untreated it can lead to the permanent gum damage and tooth loss of periodontitis.
- Take your medications. NSAIDs and other anti-inflammatory medications can have protective properties for teeth and gums as well.
- Avoid foods that promote plaque and tooth decay, such as candy, starchy foods like chips and bread, and carbonated drinks.
- Don’t use tobacco products. Cigarettes and other tobacco products are full of chemicals that attack gums and teeth and increase the risk for gum disease.
With a little care and diligence, those with rheumatoid arthritis can maintain healthy gums and teeth despite their condition.
- Ortiz P, Bissada NF, Palomo L, et al. Periodontal therapy reduces the severity of active rheumatoid arthritis in patients treated with or without tumor necrosis factor inhibitors. J Periodontol. 2009;80(4):535-40.