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Haven’t we all heard about arthritis (or rheumatoid arthritis)? The most common symptom is pain in the joints and it also affects cardiovascular system, connective tissues and internal organs. Many a times crepitus is experienced where the joints, while functioning, brush against each other and make rubbing sounds. But did you know that arthritis can also affect your oral health? Yes, an arthritis patient can suffer from various oral problems like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) infection, xerostomia (dry mouth), periodontal disease (periodontics and gingivitis) and mouth ulcers.

How does Rheumatoid Arthritis Adversely Affect your Oral Health?

As arthritis directly attacks joints, TMJ disease is induced. Due to this, stiffness while opening or closing the mouth, deformation of the joint or swelling are seen. As per researches, around 10-15% of the people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to develop Sjogren’s Syndrome (dry mouth due to inflammation). Dry mouth accelerates dental decay as well as causing thrush and gingivitis.
Arthritis commonly attacks the hands and legs. One of the indirect effects is the decrease in the frequency of important oral hygiene methods like brushing and flossing teeth due to the restricted movement of hands. When it is left untreated for prolonged periods of time, periodontal disease (receding gum-line, bleeding gums, tooth loosening, deepening of tooth pockets, tooth loss etc.) may occur.
Some patients may have to take the prescribed medicine for arthritis, methotrexate. Depending on the dose, such patients may develop mucositis viz. inflammation of mucous membrane, which may lead to mouth ulcers. The negative effects of methotrexate are also increased by the usage of nitrous oxide, a commonly used inhalable sedative.

How can you Prevent it?

The first, and eventually the most important, thing that you can do is to go to a good dentist who is updated on current medications and operations.. Knowledge about current medications will significantly help in planning any oral surgery. As a general recommendation, arthritis patients should go for dental consultation in the late mornings or early afternoons, as the condition is much better compared to other times. Do not forget to inform the dentist about any previous joint-replacement surgery you might have gone through as prosthetic joints are a lot more prone to infection, especially when they have been newly placed. It is highly recommended to avoid any invasive oral treatment within the first six months of the joint-replacement surgery.
Other simple improvements in daily measures will also help in avoiding oral complications. Using an electric toothbrush is a good idea as less movement of the hands and wrists is required while brushing. Use a softer brush and replace it every three months. Rinse your mouth with a good anti-microbial mouthwash after every meal to avoid rigorous brushing. Flossing is very important as it helps in removing food particles and plaque where normal brushing may not reach. Invest in flossettes as well as floss holders which help in the execution of flossing. Lastly, eat healthy and oral-friendly food.