People are often more likely to skip dental care than regular medical care. That’s often because they think that a lack of dental care will only affect their teeth. But the truth is that oral health is a cornerstone of your overall health. And failing to care for your oral health can have serious consequences.
This point is being made again with a new study that links a common oral bacterium with the development of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its joints.
Linking Oral Bacteria to Rheumatoid Arthritis
So, how can gum disease contribute to an autoimmune disorder? That’s a difficult question because we’re not entirely sure of what actually causes rheumatoid arthritis. But it seems likely that dealing with a chronic or serious infection can make this immune system malfunction occur.
And if we’re looking for a chronic infection that is a likely candidate, there’s almost no more likely infection than gum disease. About half of all American adults have gum disease, and, for many people, it’s a lifelong condition.
We also know that some oral bacteria have the power to subvert or confuse the immune system, leading to dysfunction. This dysfunction can then cause the immune system to attack the joints.
In this new study, researchers went further. They were able to identify a specific oral bacterium that may be responsible for some cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, or just A. a., is the culprit in this study. Researchers found the bacterium in 50% of people the study who had rheumatoid arthritis, compared to only 11% in people who didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis.
But Is It a Cause?
Simply locating the bacterium in people with rheumatoid arthritis isn’t enough to say that it can cause rheumatoid arthritis. But researchers identified a more solid link: citrullinated proteins.
In these proteins, one amino acid that our body naturally produces is transformed into another similar protein our bodies don’t normally produce.
It turns out that A. a. Has the ability to create a condition known as hypercitrullination in the gum tissue it infects. Hypercitrullination is also commonly found in the joints of people who have rheumatoid arthritis.
We know that oral bacteria and their toxins can spread through the body. It’s not a big stretch to see how the creation of hypercitrullination in the gum tissue can find its way to the joints and elsewhere in the body.
Treat Gum Disease to Safeguard Your Health
Not everyone with gum disease is going to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, doctors suggest that people with a family history of the condition should brush, floss, and make regular checkups to prevent the rise of gum disease that could trigger rheumatoid arthritis.
And even if you don’t have a history of rheumatoid arthritis, treating gum disease can help you avoid heart problems, cancer, and more.