Judson Haims: Your oral hygiene and risk of rheumatoid arthritis
Special to The Aspen Times
I am quite sure that most of us have seen television commercials where a senior citizen addresses a group of other seniors promoting a medication that helps relieve any number of issues. The pharmaceutical industry spends millions of marketing dollars publicizing a plethora of ailments any one of us might just have.
Recently, I watched a commercial that was intended for people who may suffer pain and discomfort from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This particular commercial and its timing interested me because not long ago, I accompanied a client to a medial appointment to address concerns of their RA. Sitting with my client and their doctor during the appointment proved to be quite educational. Prior to this medical appointment, I had little knowledge of the connection between RA and gum disease.
Listening to doctors ask medical and health questions to their patients is always educational for me. Often, I pick up bits and pieces of information that may relate to other clients. During this office visit, not only did I become interested in the questions the doctor posed to her patient about their oral hygiene, but my interest really became piqued when the doctor inspected the patient’s teeth.
Unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I asked the doctor why she was addressing the patient’s oral hygiene. Her response was quite interesting: I learned that people with RA quite frequently have oral hygiene issues.
For anyone who does not know much about rheumatoid arthritis, RA is an auto-immune disease where the immune system triggers inflammation even though there are no foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria to fight off. When this happens, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and soft tissue throughout the body.
The connection between gum disease and RA becomes quite clear when you consider that almost three-quarters of the people who have RA also have gum disease and/or accumulation of oral bacteria — specifically, a bacterium called Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Aa). Conversely, according to a study from Johns Hopkins, less than 11 percent of people who don’t have gum disease or an Aa infection have RA.
Obviously, we all should practice sound dental care to protect our teeth. However, for people who have RA, additional attention should be given to their dental hygiene. While not always the case, often people with RA have greater difficulty cleaning their teeth because of jaw joint issues stemming from RA. As such, frequently these people leave greater amounts of plaque behind after brushing their teeth.
Here are some tips offered by the American Dental Association that may assist those suffering from RA in their quest for better dental care:
• Visit your dentist with greater frequency as they are able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque.
• Experiment with new types of floss. Try floss holders, floss picks or threaders.
• Make the most of mouthwash. Buy one with fluoride to protect your teeth from cavities.
• Don’t light up. Smoking is a big risk factor in developing gum disease, and it can interfere with the success of some treatments.
• Speak to your dentist. Tell your dentist about your RA issues and condition.
While researchers are unsure as to the cause of RA, we do know that there are certain medical conditions that have association. Oral hygiene is one such association. If you have bleeding gums, toothache and biting difficulties, you may want to inquire if such conditions may leave you vulnerable to rheumatoid arthritis.
As with many illnesses and diseases, research continues every day. With the discoveries of new treatments constantly being developed, hope for longtime-suffering rheumatoid arthritis patients to experience some relief from this disease is building.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He can be reached through http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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