There’s another good reason to brush and floss your teeth regularly besides preventing cavities.
It could reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
In a new study published in PLOS Pathogens, an international team of scientists reported that Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacterium responsible for periodontal disease, worsens RA by leading to earlier onset and faster progression of the joint disease.
In studies on mice, researchers found that P. gingivalis produces a unique enzyme called peptidylarginine deiminanse (PAD), which enhances collagen-induced arthritis, a form of arthritis similar to RA produced in the lab.
Mice infected with P. gingivalis had significantly greater bone and cartilage destruction. The clinical signs of RA also began significantly earlier and were accompanied by more severe disease than in non-infected animals.
Although clinicians have long known about the association between gum disease and chronic inflammatory diseases like RA, the microbiological mechanisms have remained unclear until now.
“Taken together, our results suggest that bacterial PAD may constitute the mechanistic link between P. gingivalis periodontal infection and rheumatoid arthritis, but this ground-breaking conclusion will need to be verified with further research,” said Jan Potempa, PhD, a researcher at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry.
Potempa and an international team of scientists from the European Union’s Gums and Joints project studied another oral bacterium, Prevotella intermedia, for the same affect, but found it did not produce PAD or enhance arthritis.
Previous studies have found that gum disease is at least two times more prevalent in RA patients than in the general population. A P. gingivalis infection can also precede RA, and the bacterium is the likely culprit for the onset and continuation of the autoimmune inflammatory response that occur in the disease.
As early as 400 BC, Hippocrates noted an association with ‘rheumatism’ while describing a case of joint pain that was successfully treated by tooth extraction.
RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the small joints of the hands and feet. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues. Although RA can occur at any age, it usually begins after age 40 and is much more common in women than in men.
Gum disease has also been linked to heart attacks, stroke and cancer. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease. One study even found that gum disease, cavities, and missing teeth were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.