The Importance of Oral Health

Last updated: May 2018

Did you know that oral health and rheumatoid arthritis have the common link of inflammation?

RA and Gum Disease

Recent research has found that people with RA experience gum disease at a much higher rate than the general population. While the causes are not known, it is understood that inflammation is a common denominator between the two conditions.

Additional research has found that people with autoimmune diseases also can suffer from dry mouth (which contributes to oral health problems), jaw problems, more infections, and sometimes oral ulcers.

I think that oral health can also be affected by our RA joint limitations. For example, when I switched to an electric toothbrush, my gum health improved because I could brush better. My arm and hand limitations, along with strength issues, made it harder for me to brush effectively with a regular toothbrush. Now I am an acolyte of the Oral B electric toothbrush and never leave home without it. (Really! I have a backup always packed in my toiletries travel bag.)

All the research findings recommend patients have regular check-ups for oral health, along with brushing and flossing at home.

I think my oral health is pretty strong because I have been diligent throughout the years with going for checkups and cleanings twice a year. I am fortunate to have had good dental insurance, which makes it possible for me to have regular preventive care. Although I have a couple cavities, I don’t have gum disease and other complications that can commonly occur.

The appointments can be physically difficult because I have a small mouth due to my jaw being smaller from early onset RA. Unless the dentist has child size x-ray films, I cannot fit them into my mouth. I often have to start the visit explaining to the hygienist my background with having RA a long time and being patient with getting into positions for them to work and see into my mouth. It doesn’t help that I also have neck limitations!

Maintaining Oral Health

One activity I struggle with is flossing. I have pretty much tried all the positions and little holders, but just cannot physically manage to floss my teeth. Every time I have a check-up the hygienist asks me if I can floss and I always have to say no and explain. On occasion, they have recommended that I use mouthwash after brushing to help kill off bacteria since I cannot floss, but I have to admit that I have not made this a regular habit.

Some people have found a water pick a good alternative to flossing. It sprays water in a fine point that you can hold in a wand for aiming at your gums. I’m not sure if this is as helpful as flossing, but the idea is that it cleans between your teeth and strengthens the gum line. I haven’t tried this technique yet, but it may be worth attempting.

The bottom line is that prevention and maintenance of oral health is perhaps even more important for people with RA because we automatically have more inflammation present and on the prowl. Keeping ourselves healthy with regular brushing and check-ups can head off serious problems that we don’t want to deal with later.

Over the years I have read about how inflammation like what people with autoimmune diseases experience can affect the heart, circulatory system, the brain, and now the mouth. It seems that these problems may all be somehow connected to inflammation. Early research suggests that tackling it early and regularly, like maintaining oral health, can help with the other inflammation issues in the body.

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