Gum Disease Treatments May Help People Who Suffer From Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sure, a tooth infection sounds like a simple matter, but years ago routine dental matters could have serious, even fatal, effects on the body. Even now, dental medicine experts are finding that oral health is linked to some unlikely-and painful-conditions.

Gum Disease Treatments May Help People Who Suffer From Rheumatoid Arthritis

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University's School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine are investigating the effects of periodontal disease treatment in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Periodontitis, or gum disease, is a bacterial infection of tissues surrounding the tooth. Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects nearly 2 million Americans, is an autoimmune disorder that causes chronic joint swelling and inflammation.

"When we look under a microscope, these two diseases have almost identical pathologies in terms of soft and hard tissue changes as a consequence of inflammation," says Ali Askari, MD, professor at Case Western Reserve's School of Medicine and division chief of rheumatology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

In fact, one of the byproducts of both conditions is tumor necrosis factor-alpha, or TNF-a, a cytokine implicated in inflammation. Using newly developed anti-TNF-a drugs and periodontal therapies, such as deep-cleaning techniques like complete mouth scaling and root planing, in addition to patients' normal rheumatoid arthritis medications, researchers found treatment of periodontal disease reduced the severity of the rheumatoid arthritis and serum levels of TNF-a.

"We saw improvement in swollen joints, pain levels and the way the patient felt in general based on overall patient and doctor evaluations," says Askari. This study has implications for people who have periodontitis and conditions such as diabetes, inflammation of the prostate, respiratory infections or heart disease.

"Oral infection can induce subclinical inflammation occurring in other parts of the body that might exacerbate a serious condition like heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis," explains Nabil Bissada, DDS, professor and chair of Case Western Reserve's Department of Periodontics in the School of Dental Medicine. The study appears in the Journal of Periodontology.