Reducing Your Risk of Gum Disease when You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

As rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease it can leave you more susceptible to developing other inflammatory conditions including gum disease. Symptoms of gum disease include bleeding, swelling, bad breath, and abscesses.

Here's an overview of three reasons people with rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk of developing gum disease and four steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it:

The Risks

The following factors can put those with rheumatoid arthritis at greater risk of developing gum disease:

  • Compromised Immune System: A healthy immune system keeps the level of bacteria in your mouth at a manageable level. However, when you have a compromised immune system, the bacteria can overwhelm your immune response and cause an inflammatory reaction.
  • Dry Mouth: This is a side effect of some of the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis such as corticosteroids. Saliva is alkaline and bacteria do not thrive in alkaline environments. However, a reduction in saliva can create an acidic environment in your mouth, which creates the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish and attack your teeth and gums.
  • Swelling & Pain in Hand & Jaw Joints: The effect of rheumatoid arthritis on your joints can make cleaning your teeth painful and physically challenging. You may struggle to use your toothbrush effectively and flossing can become an impossible task, so food particles are often left in your mouth, which provide a food source for bacteria.


The following measures can minimise your risk of developing gum disease:

  • Use Assisting Aids: If you're struggling to clean your teeth thoroughly, aids can make life easier. You can use a modified hook and loop strap to attach your toothbrush to the palm of your hand, which means you don't have to grip it with your fingers. If you can manage to grip a toothbrush handle, but struggle with the brushing action required with a manual toothbrush, use an electric toothbrush. If you need a larger surface to grip, make a small hole in a tennis ball and push your toothbrush handle into the ball.
  • Modify Your Diet: Refined carbohydrates begin to break down in your mouth, whereas complex carbohydrates don't start to break down until they are in your stomach. When you eat a diet rich in refined carbohydrates such as white grains and processed breakfast cereals you are providing food for the bacteria in your mouth, and when bacteria feed on these simple sugars they create acid as a waste product. Reduce the amount of food available to the bacteria in your mouth by opting for whole grains and unprocessed foods as often as possible.
  • Use Fluoride Gel: You dentist can prescribe fluoride gel for you to apply at home if you're struggling to keep your teeth clean. The gel can be rubbed onto your teeth, so it's easier than brushing, and can reduce enamel erosion by forming a protective coating.
  • Have Your Teeth Professionally Cleaned: As gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque, you can reduce your risk of developing it by having your dentist or dental hygienist give your teeth a thorough clean a couple of times a year. They will remove plaque and tartar from every tooth surface and floss between your teeth.

If you're concerned about the health of your gums and teeth or if you'd like some advice on dental products that could help you manage your oral health, schedule an appointment with your dentist for a thorough examination.