Does gum disease indicate future joint problems? Study links gum-disease bacterium to collagen-caused rheumatoid arthritis

Although researchers and clinicians have long known about an association between two prevalent chronic inflammatory diseases – periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis – the microbiological links have been unclear; a new study suggests this link is causative and that the bacteria responsible for gum disease leads to a faster progression of rheumatoid arthritis.

In a recent article published in PLoS Pathogens by University of Louisville School of Dentistry researchers say, “The bacterium responsible for periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, worsens rheumatoid athritis by leading to earlier onset, faster progression and greater severity of the disease, including increased bone and cartilage destruction,” according to a U of L news release.

The study says the bacterium produces an enzyme that worsens collagen-induced arthritis, a form of arthritis similar to rheumatoid arthritis produced in the laboratory.

The study was led by Oral Health and Systemic Diseases Group researcher Dr. Jan Potempa and a team that also studied another oral bacterium for the same effect, and found it did not affect collagen-induced arthritis or suggest a link to rheumatoid arthritis.

“This ground-breaking conclusion will need to be verified with further research,” said Potempa. Although the specific cause for the disease remains unknown, Potempa said he hopes these findings will shed new light on the treatment and prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.

An estimated 294,000 children under age 18 have some form of arthritis or rheumatic condition, says 2010 data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention; this represents approximately 1 in every 250 children in the U.S. An estimated 1.5 million adults had rheumatoid arthritis in 2007. Click here for more information from the CDC.

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