Recent research has shown surprising relationships between inflammatory diseases that at first glance may seem unrelated. Causes of an inflammatory response in one part of the body appear to be likely factors in the initiation and continuation of an inflammatory response elsewhere in the body.
One of these surprising relationships of inflammatory diseases is between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Gum disease is one of the most prevalent infectious inflammatory diseases, and prior research has found that individuals with gum disease have an increased prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis. Gum disease is also at least two times more prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
However, the reasons for this association between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis have remained unclear. Recently, researchers examined the role that a particular bacteria (P. gingivalis) well known for its contribution to gum disease may play in this relationship. Using an animal model for rheumatoid arthritis in mice, the researchers could more directly assess the influence of this bacteria on the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
This research revealed that the presence of the gum disease bacteria not only exacerbated rheumatoid arthritis in the mice studied, but also sensitized the animals to early development of rheumatoid arthritis. The mice infected with this bacteria also showed significantly greater bone and cartilage destruction in the joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical signs of arthritis also appeared much earlier in mice infected with this gum disease bacteria.
In addition to this, the researchers indentified the enzyme most likely to be triggering the immune response that may be leading to rheumatoid arthritis development or aggravating the course of the rheumatoid arthritis. However, at present the mechanism by which this enzyme contributes to rheumatoid arthritis remains unclear.
Although potential treatments for rheumatoid arthritis based on this research remain a long way off, this research does highlight that the significance of dental health extends beyond just the impact on teeth and gums. Knowledge of the impact of gum disease bacteria on rheumatoid arthritis may add even greater motivation to attend to proper dental care. More generally, this research also contributes to the growing realization that chronic inflammatory diseases can have an impact on the entire body and can impact diseases that on the surface may appear to be completely unrelated, making prompt diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory diseases an important public health goal.
Maresz KJ, Hellvard A, Sroka A, et al. Porphyromonas gingivalis facilitates the development and progression of destructive arthritis through its unique bacterial Peptidylarginine Deiminase (PAD). PLoS Pathogens. (2013). DOI:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003627