Taking care of your teeth could prevent arthritis pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis: NHS on common signs and symptoms

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Practising good oral hygiene comes with obvious benefits such as preventing tooth decay and bad breath. However, it could have a wider influence on our bodies. A new study has found that a serious type of gum disease could trigger arthritis flare ups.

The research, published in Science Translational Medicine journal, was sparked by an unexpected discovery.

While carrying out her work computational biologist Vicky Yao, from Rice University in Texas, found traces of bacteria associated with periodontal disease in samples collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Her finding led to a series of experiments that confirmed a connection between arthritis flare-ups and periodontitis.

It is thought that tracing this connection between the two conditions could help develop therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the lining of the joints and can cause heart, lung and eye problems.

The approach that led to the study could prove fruitful in other disease contexts, such as cancer.

In a university release Yao explained: “Data gathered in experiments from living organisms or cells or tissue grown in petri dishes is really important to confirm hypotheses, but, at the same time, this data perhaps holds more information than we are immediately able to derive from it.”

Yao’s theory was confirmed when she took a deeper look into data collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients by Dana Orange, an associate professor of clinical investigation and a rheumatologist, and Bob Darnell, a professor and attending physician at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Yao was already collaborating with Orange and others on a different project that tracked changes in gene expression during rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.

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“Orange, working with Darnell, collected data from arthritis patients at regular intervals while, at the same time, monitoring when the flares happened,” Yao said.

“The idea was that perhaps looking at this data retroactively, some pattern would become visible giving clues as to what might cause the arthritis to flare up.”

On closer inspection, Yao found that the germs in the samples that changed consistently across patients prior to flares were largely ones associated with gum disease.

“One of the things that came up when we were discussing this was, how cool would it be if you could prescribe some kind of mouthwash to help prevent rheumatoid arthritis flares,” she said.

This discovery of meaningful information in data that would usually be ignored or discarded inspired Yao to take a similar approach in looking at data from cancer patients.

“I got really interested in what else we can find mining for microbial signatures in human samples,” Yao said.

“Now, we’re doing something similar in looking at cancer.

“The hope here is that if we find some interesting microbial or viral signatures that are associated with cancer, we can then identify productive experimental directions to pursue.

“For instance, if having a tumour creates this hotbed of specific microbes that we recognize, then we can maybe use that knowledge as a means to diagnose the cancer sooner or in a less invasive or costly way.

“Or, if you have microbes that have a very strong association with survival rates, that can help with prognosis.

“And if experiments confirm a causal link between a specific virus or bacteria and a type of cancer, then, of course, that could be useful for therapeutics.”

Signs of periodontal disease include:

  • Bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures.

To keep your gums health the NHS recommends you:

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day – spit after brushing, do not rinse
  • Clean in between your teeth every day using floss or interdental brushes
  • Replace your toothbrush every one to three months
  • See a dentist and dental hygienist for regular check-ups.

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