NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Symptoms of gum disease are common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and may be an independent marker of RA disease activity, according to research presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology meeting in San Francisco.
About 20 million people worldwide have RA -- an autoimmune disease caused when the body confuses healthy tissues for foreign substances and attacks itself. The disease causes pain, stiffness and swelling in multiple joints, and inflammation can develop in other organs as well. Studies have suggested that RA raises heart risks.
Dr. Clifton O. Bingham, III, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, surveyed the oral health of 153 patients with RA between 45 and 84 years old and found that patients with more active RA had more symptoms of gum disease.
The results also suggest that the prevalence of gum disease in patients with RA is at least twice that seen in the general population, and that "more than 30 percent have severe periodontal disease according to the 2007 CDC criteria, which may need surgical intervention," Bingham said.
"The relationship between RA disease activity with periodontal disease suggests that periodontal disease may serve as a disease-modifying factor for RA," he added.
"These findings should prompt more attention to oral health in this patient population," Bingham said.
The rheumatologist pointed out that treatment of periodontal disease has been linked to improved control of other systemic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The possibility exists, therefore, that treatment of periodontal disease could even "improve outcomes for patients with RA."