Q: I have gum disease, and I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve heard these may be linked. Did gum disease cause my arthritis?
A: The link between the two diseases is not yet completely understood. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It is believed that some type of injury — possibly related to a bacterial infection — can trigger the onset of the disease in genetically susceptible people.
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Inflamed gums are typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and hard plaque on the teeth, which damages supporting bone and tissue. One specific bacteria (Porphyromonas gingivalis) can cause citrullination, a process that changes proteins to make them more likely to trigger an immune response targeting the lining of joints.
It is not guaranteed that one condition causes the other, but it is suggested to get quality treatment for both.
― Rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD
This article was adapted from Cleveland Clinic Arthritis Advisor.