Good oral hygiene prevents cavities. Now, new research suggests it also may make a difference in preventing and managing lupus and other diseases.
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientists Umesh Deshmukh and Harini Bagavant have found a link between gum disease and lupus, an autoimmune disease.
“Our findings suggest a simple message: If there is good dental care, patients have a good chance of experiencing less severe disease,” Bagavant said. “With further research, we might be able to tell if proper oral health has the potential to help prevent these diseases altogether.”
At OMRF, Bagavant and Deshmukh study the effect of oral health in lupus, a disease that strikes an estimated 1.5 million Americans. The scientists’ research focuses on bacteria commonly found in the mouth that have been associated with gum disease.
“Our study shows that patients who might have been exposed to gum disease-causing bacteria show higher lupus activity. Therefore, we expect that a seemingly small change, like brushing and flossing regularly, could benefit patients who are already on a host of powerful medications by allowing them to modify their treatment with fewer drugs or less powerful dosages,” she said. “And fewer drugs can mean fewer side effects.”
Deshmukh said the new findings provide strong rationale for improving dental care in lupus patients as an add-on to traditional therapy. The research could also lead to new methods of early disease detection.
He emphasized that the findings could have implications beyond lupus. “Poor oral health can contribute to a number of diseases,” Deshmukh said. “Taking care of your teeth now could help you avoid type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.”
A husband-and-wife research team, Deshmukh and Bagavant joined OMRF from the University of Virginia in 2013. Since then, they’ve worked with OMRF clinicians to observe the effects of mouth bacteria on disease in different patient populations.
“It needs to be a priority to better educate people on the importance of good dental care,” Bagavant said. “These results indicate that just being seen regularly by a dentist, taking care of your gums and managing plaque can benefit your health in significant ways over time.”
The findings were published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology. Funding for the project was provided by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
Ryan Stewart is media relations coordinator for Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.