According to new research, a common bacterium in gum disease may be a major factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. By the time rheumatoid arthritis develops, it’s too late to benefit from this insight. But people with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis are urged to take good care of their oral health to potentially prevent the disease.

Linking Oral Bacteria to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. In this disorder, the immune system starts attacking healthy tissue as if it were an invading bacteria, leading to joint damage. As with many autoimmune disorders, treatment involves suppressing the immune system, which exposes a person to other illnesses. There is no cure, but prevention techniques could be just as good, which is why this potential link is so important.

Researchers have long suspected that some kind of bacterial infection was involved in triggering rheumatoid arthritis. The thought is that the infection either subverts or confuses the immune response. Gum disease bacteria have been suspects because gum disease is associated with a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and the chronic nature of the infection could contribute to increased inflammation.

Now researchers have identified one specific bacterium, known as Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, or simply A. a. for short, that may be responsible for triggering some cases of rheumatoid arthritis. A. a. was found in nearly 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis, compared to just 11% of people without rheumatoid arthritis.

Finding the Causal Mechanism

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, so researchers sought to try to identify how A.a. might cause rheumatoid arthritis. The link, it turns out, is citrullinated proteins. Citrullinated proteins are commonly found in rheumatoid arthritis. After testing for rheumatoid factor, testing for antibodies against citrullinated proteins is considered the most diagnostic test for the disease.

Researchers found that A. a. created a condition known as hypercitrullination in the gum tissues of infected individuals. This could potentially set up the conditions for rheumatoid arthritis to develop as the body responds to the protein irregularity with .

This is short of directly linking the protein to rheumatoid arthritis, but it is a very strong hint.

Watch for Signs of Gum Disease

If you know that you have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, it makes sense to take extra precautions when it comes to gum disease. Floss and brush carefully every day. See your dentist every six months. Watch for gums that are sensitive, red, inflamed, or bleeding. Hopefully, this will help keep gum disease under control and prevent both receding gums and rheumatoid arthritis.

But if you have already experienced receding gums and you’re looking to repair your gums, please call (949) 551-5902 today for an appointment with an Orange County dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.