Rheumatoid Arthritis And Dental Health

I just left my dentist’s office. After my third visit in the past six weeks, my dental hygienist finally gave me the thumbs up, and declared this cleaning to be over. When I first moved here to my little corner of South America, I was amazed that one procedure didn’t necessarily correspond to one visit; I’ve had previous cleanings that were done over a period of five sessions, and I even had one root canal that took six (one-hour!) sessions to complete. I still remember asking, nervously, how much all of this was costing me. When they told me that it wasn’t costing anything extra, that their goal was to complete each procedure until they achieved the desired results–no matter how long it took–they saw the confused look on my face, and chuckled. They were dumbfounded by my suggestion that I was being charged per visit, and asked me if anyone really charges patients in such a manner. (At that point, as I looked back on all of my medical visits while living in the United States, it was my turn to chuckle!)

Just a couple of days ago, I realized that I had not had a major flare in the past month. Of course, I stopped to wonder what, if anything, was different during the past few weeks. It’s certainly not the meds, as I’ve not taken any since early this year. The weather here in the southern hemisphere is turning warmer as we move into summer; while I know this helps we’ve also had our share of cold, rainy days during the month of November. My diet is unchanged, as are my exercise levels. The only thing that I could think of was all of this dental work that I’ve had done recently; to further bolster this theory is the fact that the exact same thing happened a couple of years ago: after what was then months of dental work (including the above-mentioned root canal,) I had an extended period where my RA symptoms were much lower than usual.

Might there be a connection between dental health and rheumatoid arthritis activity? Even though I haven’t read any of the reports in detail, over the past few years I have seen multiple headlines which referred to a connection between the two. And during the most recent Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, I did see many Tweets which talked about studies associated with periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

My dentist and my dental hygienist both know that I live with RA, and know that when I say that it’s sometimes just too painful to brush and floss, that I’m not just making up excuses. They tell me that my chronic illness is one of the reasons why they want to ensure that I achieve the best possible results during each one of my procedures. “A person’s gums are a window into a person’s immune system,” they told me during my previous visit. I had never heard such a thing…but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

So I’m curious: has anyone else noticed a connection between their dental health and their autoimmune arthritis activity?

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

28 Comments
28 comments
  1. Vee says:

    Yes I noticed. I have gingivitis which I associated with people who did not practie good dental hygiene. I do the twice a year cleaning and brush and floss. between the dis-ease and the treament it’s wonder we have anything that functions properly.

  2. Pamela says:

    Oh yeah! My dentist told me about this and we noticed that when I was having a flare, my gums were bad. Just something else to worry about.

  3. Dawn says:

    I get gum and mouth infections a lot, I brush thoroughly twice a day but my dentist didn’t believe me and kept doing “cleans” but that only made my gums recede. Have since read that our RA leaves us prone to mouth infections.

  4. elisabeth says:

    I haven’t noticed a drop in symptoms after dental work, but my new dentist completely agrees that proper dental care and RA are closely related. After catching up on dental maintenance and buying an electric toothbrush and dental floss picks (which are easier for me to hold) my teeth and gums are much healthier (while on chemo my gums receded rather a lot and bled often- the latter issues is completely gone now!). Weakened immune system means it’s much easier to develop gum disease and other complications.

  5. HayWire0831 says:

    I can’t believe you just said this because my sister-in-law was just talking to me last week about a connection between dental health and breast cancer. However, I think dental health and RA could DEFINITELY be related. I have major mouth problems. Gum disease, missing a tooth in the back, had to have gum grafts. I also have TMJD which I think was contributed by RA. I think there’s a definite link!

  6. Clay says:

    Anyone with jaw problems? Mine stay swollen all the time and horrible pain can’t open or shut my mouth correctly

  7. RA Guy says:

    I’ve had jaw problems before, lots of popping and pain. Luckily, it’s never lasted too long…having so much pain in such close proximity to my head/face was very uncomfortable, and used to make me quite anxious…

  8. Brandy says:

    There is a scientifically proven correlation. I’ll try and find the research papers. The worse the dental health, the worse the RA and the worse the RA the worse the dental health. There should be something on the Oxford Medical Journal site.

  9. Ann says:

    A: The jaw is a joint so jaw problems and RA=Par for the course B: I read a study that linked RA and dental problems but it attibuted them to being brushed by weak sore hands (I thought that part was rubbish) C: I also read that some believe a longstanding infection can trigger RA in people with the genetic makeup for it. I had one of those in my jaw from bad teeth. My teeth decayed from the root up loosing the connective tissue (anterior resorption) Deffinatly sounds like autoimmune to me!

  10. Jane says:

    I would suggest looking into overlap with Sjogren’s syndrome. I have had Sjogren’s for 20 years. I have stopped pouring huge amounts of money into my teeth as I can only work part-time now. I have a “temporary” metal crown holding out as a permanent one (apparently what is left is decaying underneath, and I have lost about 5 adult teeth permanently. I always took good care of my teeth – not that dentists believed me, and now I have just about given up. I eat soft foods to stop my teeth breaking. I have found a really good toothpaste with baking soda. It burns my mouth, but it seems to be stopping more plaque buildup/decay from lack of saliva. Infections are a huge issue for me too. Take care, all!

  11. Kary says:

    The clinic where I’ve been receiving immunotherapy for RA asked at my first appointment about dental treatment. Interestingly my symptoms started just after I had a crown fitted!

  12. Karen says:

    I’ve had a phobia of dentists since I was a kid. So of course my mouth and gums are in pretty bad shape. I also haven’t had a dental plan in years, but there is now one available at work so I signed up. I’m really hoping that getting this periodontal fixing helps my symptoms.

  13. Laura says:

    Hi- no problems here or connections between RA & my teeth. Just had them cleaned yesterday and all is well. Have a good day, all!

  14. Nslswan says:

    Me again
    I just read what others posted & had a thought

    I use this tooth whitening jell once a month & when I go for teeth cleaning they can not find any tater to clean

    Has anyone else done this?

  15. Susan Scott says:

    Had a checkup, teeth cleaned and fluoride treatment last week and have been suffering ever since. Maybe the plaque was the only thing protecting the nerve in my tooth which is now so sore I am taking pain killers all the time I can only eat soup and yoghurt at the moment (not mixed together fortunately)

    I am not confident that my (new) dentist understands RA and possible links with dental health I’m also wondering if there is a link with the drugs I’m taking – particularly methotrexate and cyclosporin

    Any advice anyone?

  16. Cristina says:

    Hi there, I’m a dental hygienist who has RA . There is a correlation between RA and oral health and visa versa. Somewhat similar to diabetes. It is more difficult to keep perio disease under control with RA. If your perio is out of control this will probably exacerbate your RA because of the overactive inflammatory reactions trying to keep the infection under control. So get yr teeth cleaned every 3-4 months. Scaling and root planing might be needed periodically and or some low dose antibiotic therapy as well. Take care!

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