WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Oct. 20, 2009 (Philadelphia) -- Brush and floss! Gum disease may raise your
risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a new study shows.
“We’ve known for a while that there is an association between gum disease
and rheumatoid arthritis. But our new work suggests periodontal disease is
causal,” says study head Jerry A. Molitor, MD, PhD, associate professor in the
division of rheumatology and autoimmune disease at the University of Minnesota,
Compared to people with mild or no periodontitis surrounding two or three
teeth, people with moderate to severe gum disease are nearly three times more
likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the study shows. Among
never-smokers with moderate to severe gum disease, the risk is increased
People with periodontitis also have higher blood levels of an antibody that
has been associated with more severe, damaging RA than do people with healthy
gums, Molitor says.
The study involved 6,616 people who underwent four thorough health checkups
between 1987 and 1998. Everyone also had a dental exam between 1996 and
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of
So why would gum disease lead to the chronic, painful inflammation of the
joints that characterizes rheumatoid arthritis?
No one knows for sure. But evidence suggests the mechanism of destruction of
connective tissues in both gum disease and RA is similar, researchers say.
If confirmed in future studies, the research has important implications for
patients, Molitor says.
“One of the questions I get all the time from RA patients is, ‘What is my
kids’ risk of developing it?’ This suggests that in people with a family
history, flossing and brushing can help to modify risk,” he says.
Darcy Majka, MD, a rheumatologist at Northwestern University in Chicago who
moderated a news conference to discuss the findings, tells WebMD, “This is a
very important study -- the first to show [a causal relationship] between
rheumatoid arthritis and periodontitis.
“Unlike heart disease, where there are a lot of modifiable risk factors, we
don’t have a lot of modifiable risk factors for RA,” she says.
Majka’s advice: “See your dentist right at the six-month mark for a checkup
and practice good dental hygiene.”
SOURCES:American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Oct. 17-21,
2009.Jerry A. Molitor, MD, PhD, associate professor, division of rheumatology and
autoimmune disease, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.Darcy Majka, MD, assistant professor of rheumatology, Northwestern
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