Gum disease can lead to joint problems. That's the key finding of new research, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Pathogens, that shows the bacterium responsible for periodontal disease worsens rheumatoid arthritis by speeding its development and progression, and causing more severe symptoms.
University of Louisville School of Dentistry researchers noted clinicians have long known the two chronic inflammatory conditions are linked, but the new study is among the first to identify the microbiological culprit — Porphyromonas gingivalis — as the connection.
"Taken together, our results suggest that bacterial [agents] may constitute the mechanistic link between P. gingivalis periodontal infection and rheumatoid arthritis," said Jan Potempa, a Louisville specialist who headed the international team of scientists from the European Union's Gums and Joints project that made the discovery. "But this ground-breaking conclusion will need to be verified with further research."
The scientists found that the gum disease microbe produces a unique enzyme that promotes collagen-induced arthritis — a form of arthritis similar to RA — which, in turn, prompts an immune system attack. In arthritis patients, this leads to chronic inflammation and bone and cartilage destruction within the joints.
Potempa said he is hopeful these findings could lead to new treatments and prevention strategies for arthritis.
Past studies have shown people with gum disease have twice the risk of developing arthritis, compared to the general population.
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