Floss your teeth for healthy knees

Do your knees hurt from arthritis? Well this just may be another reason for pulling that silly string out of the bathroom drawer!

Here’s another link in the connection between periodontitis and poor general health. Researchers in the United States recently published a study showing that gum bacteria can migrate to the knee joints of people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Using DNA markers, the researchers were able to genetically determine that bacteria found in the knees were derived from bacteria present in the gums of the same study subjects. Healthy knees aren’t supposed to have bacteria in them in the first place. According to study leader Nabil Bissada, chairman of the department of periodontics at the Case Western School of Dental Medicine, the fluid surrounding a healthy kneecap—known as synovial fluid—should be essentially sterile. The scenario Dr. Bissada’s team pieced together is that offspring of the gum bacteria entered the bloodstream and settled in the synovial fluid of a knee weakened by arthritis. Although the bacteria probably did not cause the arthritis, it’s no good having bacteria living in your knee. “Bacteria can make the diseased area much, much worse,” concludes Dr. Bissada.

This conclusion is consistent with other studies linking gum bacteria to arterial plaque and inflamed heart valves, among other conditions.

While the cause and effect relationship is unknown at this time, gum specialists like Dr. Bissada feel that the connection is more than trivial. For example, it is well-established that harmful bacteria from advanced periodontitis can enter the bloodstream. Once it gets there, the body’s circulatory system can send it anywhere. As the oral bacteria travels, it may cause secondary infections or it may contribute to the disease already in other tissues and organ systems. Dr. Bissada notes that the circulating bacteria often lands at a site where inflammation already exists such as: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, orthopaedics, implant failure, kidney disease or—the knee.

While the scientific jury is still out on the exact relationship between periodontal bacteria and diseases affecting the rest of the body, it can’t hurt to keep your mouth healthy. Daily brushing and flossing, regular check-ups, and treatment for periodontal disease if present, will pay off in the long run. You’ll not only have healthy teeth—your knees just might feel better, too!

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