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The Importance of Oral Health

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kristin
    3 years ago

    I have a question. I just had a cleaning and they want me to see a Periodontist​ due to my teeth are moving slightly. I’m 48. I don’t have gum disease which is one of the biggest reasons that teeth could move at my age, so the dentist is a little stumped. Asked if R.A. could be issue, she said it was a possibility.
    I have had R.A most my life. 18 Mo’s old i was diagnosed w/JRA. Eventually..I out grew the worst of symptoms, just flaring mainly when the seasons changed, I did sleep A LOT growing up and had fatigue thru out many days with minor aches and pains, but for the most part I was able to function pretty much normal. However…at 41 yrs everything changed for the worse! I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, than shortly after…R.A. decided to come out of hiding!
    Through the years… I always took GREAT care of my teeth, yet always seemed to have cavities- couldn’t figure it out. After reading up on R.A. and teeth… I learned that it could of been a side effect of R.A. since I was a child.
    So now….after all these years my teeth started to wiggle and move a bit, but just enough for dentist to notice and say it’s not really normal. Honestly…i am freaking out! Bone loss in Jaw? Is that possible for those who have R.A.? I am making an appointment with Periodontist soon . But wondering if anyone as ANY insight before I go? NO ONE wants to lose their teeth!
    As many of us know, not all doctor’s are up on R.A. issues so I’d like to have some good knowledge before I go.
    One thought I have is, my jaw started popping like TMJ a few years ago during stressful times. I also realized I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. Does anyone have ANY thoughts that could help me?
    My worry is… If there is bone loss due to R.A., does anyone know if you could lose your teeth due to R.A. damage?

  • MrsTex50
    3 years ago

    Kristin, I have gum disease and RA (gum disease longer). My teeth were (and some still are) wiggling very badly. I’ve still got them. There are quite a few things periodontists can do now to help. There seem to be plenty of articles on the web about RA and gum disease like this one.

    So sorry this is happening to you. Hope you get the answers you need from your periodontist.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Kristin, Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, I don’t have any insights on your question. I have heard that people’s teeth do gradually move as they age and time passes. So that is one thing that could be happening. And people with RA do experience bone loss, so that is possible. Sounds like you are doing the best thing by having your check ups and getting the referral to a periodontist. Hopefully they will be able to tell you more after an examination. Keep us posted on how you are doing. Best, Kelly

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    3 years ago

    Once I called my dentist and told him of the oral lesions in my mouth. I could barely stand it, so I went in. He said you have sores on sores. Today I keep a bottle of Mary’s Magic Mouthwash in the refrigerator. Best stuff ever, when I need it of course.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Ouch, Rick! That sounds painful! Sorry to hear about that. Is it something that is related to your RA? Glad that you figured out a way to treat it that works. Best, Kelly

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