Although the causes of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis aren't the same, any type of joint disease can affect your oral health. Research studies investigating numerous chronic health conditions, including arthritis, suggest that what's happening in the rest of your body can affect your oral health, or the other way around.
Arthritis affects the joints in the body, including the temporomandibular joint -- the joint that connects the jaw to the bones at the sides and base of the skull. Arthritis in the jaw joint can make it difficult to open your mouth wide. This makes it hard to eat and chew.
If your arthritis leads to a temporomandibular disorder which gives you problems chewing, you likely will experience mouth dryness. The less you chew, the less saliva your salivary glands produce.
The ability to chew hard produces more saliva. Minerals in saliva protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay. Consequently, too little saliva increases your risk for tooth decay.
Temporomandibular disorders also can cause the side of your face to swell. Other symptoms include clicking or popping sounds in the jaw joint, face tenderness, or severe pain in your jaw bone, neck, or around your ear. Toothaches, headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and pain in your upper shoulder are additional symptoms you can suffer.
Difficulty Practicing Oral Hygiene
The pain and hand deformities associated with arthritis can make it harder to care for your teeth. When arthritis restricts joint movements, a decrease in manual dexterity makes brushing and flossing your teeth difficult. Another factor that makes it harder to practice proper oral hygiene is not being able to open your mouth wide.
Since you can't get to hard-to-reach places to clean your teeth as well, you are at higher risk for cavities and gum disease. However, using an electric toothbrush or a toothbrush with a large handle gives you a better grip. Floss holders also make the job of cleaning your teeth easier.
Medication Side Effects
Medications to treat your arthritis can affect your dental health. Therefore, let your dentist know of any over-the-counter or prescription medications you are taking. For example, your dentist needs to know if you take aspirin for pain, as it can cause more bleeding during a dental procedure.
Other analgesic medications you take for pain may decrease saliva production, causing dry mouth. Saliva neutralizes the acids plaque produces. Decreased saliva flow leaves more bacteria on your teeth, increasing your risk of developing cavities and gum disease. As you get older and your gums recede and expose the root surfaces of teeth, you can develop root decay.
Weakened Immune System
Let your dentist know if you've recently had joint replacement surgery. Prosthetic joints make you more susceptible to infections, especially in the first months following surgery. If, during that time, you require dental treatment that can't be postponed, your dentist may take preventive measures by prescribing a prophylactic course of antibiotics.
Dental procedures can cause small cuts or punctures inside the mouth. Taking antibiotics prior to an invasive dental procedure reduces the risk of oral bacteria traveling from the mouth or gums through the bloodstream to the prosthetic joint where it can cause infection.
Arthritis suffers have weakened immune systems as it is. Lower immunity makes it harder to fight off infections harmful bacteria can cause.
What You Can Do
Since what happens elsewhere in your body can affect the health of your teeth and gums, it's important to protect your oral health, especially when you have other health problems. Begin by providing your family dentist at Dental Associates PC with a full health and medication history. The more your dentist knows about you, the more effectively he or she can treat you.