Brushing your teeth properly today can lower your risk of arthritis later in life, study finds

By Cassidy Morrison Senior Health Reporter for Dailymail.Com

Updated: 7:15 PM Mar 10, 2023

  • Germs associated with gum disease were linked to rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups
  • The bacteria enter the blood and cause the body to attack its healthy joint cells
  • A link between dental hygiene and rheumatoid arthritis has long been suspected

Keeping your teeth clean can stave off the misery of arthritis flare-ups, according to a new study.

Bacteria associated with gum disease can aggravate severe joint pain that worsens rheumatoid arthritis when it enters the bloodstream, according to researchers at Rice University in Texas.

Biologist Vicky Yao made the connection when she examined blood samples taken from patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks healthy cells in the joints of the body, leading to swelling and inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause heart, lung and eye problems.

Rice University computational biologist Vicky Yao (pictured) found traces of bacteria associated with periodontal disease in samples taken from rheumatoid arthritis patients
Tracing the link between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis could help develop therapies for the latter, an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the lining of joints and can cause heart, lung and eye problems

Establishing a link between oral bacteria and arthritis flare-ups could pave the way for new treatments not only for rheumatoid arthritis, but for other diseases as well.

Lead researcher Dr Vicky Yao said: “Data collected in experiments from living organisms or cells or tissues cultured in petri dishes is really important for confirming hypotheses, but, at the same time , this data may contain more information than we are immediately able to derive.’

Dr. Yao’s findings catalyzed a series of subsequent experiments with rheumatologist Dr. Dana Orange and Howard Hughes Medical Institute physician Dr. Bob Darnell.

Dr Yao said: “Orange, in collaboration with Darnell, collected data from arthritis patients at regular intervals while monitoring when flare-ups occurred.

“The idea was that maybe by looking at this data retroactively, a pattern would become visible, giving clues to what might be causing an arthritis flare-up.”

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that germs associated with gum disease changed steadily before flare-ups.

In addition to shedding light on the treatment of arthritis flare-ups, their research opens the door to developing better therapies for other diseases as well, such as cancer. The method of monitoring disease-related microbes could be useful in learning more about certain cancers.

The team led by Dr Yao found that germs in samples that constantly changed from patient to patient before flare-ups were largely associated with gum disease.

Dr Yao explained, “I was curious about this tool that allowed you to detect microbes in human samples.

“One of the things that came up when we were discussing this was how cool it would be if you could prescribe some sort of mouthwash to help prevent rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups.”

The breakthrough happened by chance, Dr Yao said.

“While I was working on this project I attended this talk which I thought was really cool because it pointed out that in data that is ignored or discarded you can actually find traces of microbes.

“You look at a human sample, but you get a snapshot of the microbes floating around. I was intrigued by this.

The discovery of meaningful insights in data that would typically be ignored or dismissed prompted her to take a similar approach when examining data from cancer patients.

Unhealthy bacteria in the mouth have links to autoimmune disease

Researchers at the University Center for Dentistry in Amsterdam have found a similar link between oral health and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis and those at risk for it had higher levels of two types of bacteria, including one known to cause chronic inflammation in the body.

She said: “I got really interested in what else we can find in extracting microbial signatures from human samples.

“Now we’re doing something similar looking at cancer. The hope here is that if we find interesting microbial or viral signatures associated with cancer, then we can identify productive experimental directions to pursue.

“For example, if having a tumor creates this focus of specific microbes that we recognize, maybe we can use that knowledge as a way to diagnose cancer earlier or in a less invasive or expensive way.

“And if the experiments confirm a causal link between a specific virus or bacteria and a type of cancer, then, of course, that could be useful for therapeutics.”

It is well known that certain microbes are responsible for cancer, such as human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. But for the vast majority of cancers, the relationship is unclear.

Dr Yao added: ‘When we did the same exercise looking at cervical cancer tumor samples, we consistently detected the virus.

“I’m really interested in using computational approaches to bridge the gap between available experimental data and ways to interpret it. Computational analysis is a way to help interpret data and prioritize hypotheses that clinicians or experimental scientists need to test.

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