JointHealth™ express   October 13, 2017

ACE launches first of three new blogs to help you “power up” your arthritis knowledge, get more connected to the community, and learn the latest about health policy and politics affecting our group of chronic diseases.

The first blog “Is your mouth a gateway to getting arthritis?” will explore the latest research showing the connection between the mouth and the joints.

As Canada’s largest national patient-led organization and provider of evidence-based information and education programming, ACE is always looking for better ways to “power up” Canadians living with arthritis.

As always, we want to know what you think. We encourage you to share feedback and offer topics of interest for future blog posts.

Is your mouth a gateway to getting arthritis?

By Cheryl Koehn

When Health Canada’s Canadian Institutes of Health Research was created in 1994, I, like many, was puzzled that they included oral health along with musculoskeletal health in the research pillar known as the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis (IMHA). After all, what do researchers trying to solve the thousands of mysteries that make up “arthritis”, a group of over 100 different diseases, have to do with teeth. But were they ever smart to do so; the latest research shows the mouth and the joints are definitely connected.

Over the past year, I’ve read numerous articles that outline how the mouth is the birthplace of many chronic inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. I’ve learned how our oral health (what goes on in your mouth) affects the rest of your body. Our gums and teeth turn out to be excellent indicators about how well, or not, the rest of our health is.

Infection, long thought by researchers to be a key trigger in the development of inflammatory arthritis, happens most commonly in the mouth. Why? Well, because many of us (myself included!) don’t follow the advice of our dentists and their hygienists who instruct us to brush and floss daily. The result of not doing so is a buildup on the teeth of bacteria left by food particles, and after only a matter of a few days turn into that hard, white tartar you can see between teeth, and where teeth meet the gums. (That’s the stuff they scrape off when you go get your teeth cleaned.) Over time, spaces or “pockets” begin to form between the teeth and gums and then bacteria – or germs – slip further down the pockets and into the blood stream where the mayhem begins full force. These germs can travel anywhere in the body and can set off inflammatory responses such as those seen in cardiovascular disease and autoimmune forms of arthritis. In a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers reported how periodontal therapy – deep cleaning of the teeth and below the gum line – reduced inflammation and helped the blood vessels of the heart operate as they should.

The connection between cardiovascular disease and arthritis is clear – people with inflammatory types of arthritis are at a two to four times higher risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, than people without it. For people living with an inflammatory type of arthritis, our health care providers should be advising us not just to stop or not to start smoking, but also to brush and floss our teeth daily to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. At the same time as looking at our joints, our rheumatologists should start asking you to “say, ahhh” and have a quick peek to detect red or swollen gums, a sure sign something bad is happening in your mouth.

Here are some simple things you can do to practice good oral health and possibly improve your arthritis, too:
  • Start thinking “you are your mouth” and put good things into it. Adding or upping your intake of foods that go “crunch” (like carrots, celery and such) act as a natural food particle remover from the surface of the teeth;
  • Keep your eyes peeled for red, swollen and/or tender gums. Those are your warning signs that something isn’t quite right in your mouth, and possibly elsewhere in your body;
  • No, you can’t just take a slug of mouthwash and be done with it, you actually have to brush your teeth twice a day like the nice hygienist instructs you to do. And be precise. Brush each tooth individually and take no less than 2-3 minutes every time you brush. That’s the length of one cool song on your favourite play list. Just push play and start brushing and don’t stop until the song is over;
  • The thing we all hate to do but is critical to great oral health; you guessed it – flossing daily. Get in between all teeth and gently below the gum line where the really bad stuff hides out, even if you start bleeding. That will start to go away the more you do it. If it doesn’t, get in to see your dentist.
The bottom line: Good oral health can help you smile with arthritis.

Be well,

Cheryl Koehn, Founder and President
Arthritis Consumer Experts