New research at the University of Adelaide is showing strong evidence of a link between a common type of gum disease and severe arthritis – and a possible treatment for both diseases.
More than 60% of the world’s population is affected by periodontitis, a disease that results in red, inflamed gums and loss of bone and tissues that support the teeth.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks health tissues in the joints, leading to inflammation as well as bone and cartilage loss. This painful condition affects up to 2% of the world’s population.
"Both conditions are the result of inflammatory responses in the body, and our research shows that both are uniquely linked," says PhD student Melissa Cantley from the University of Adelaide's School of Medical Sciences.
"Studies in humans have already shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to suffer greater tooth loss than those without rheumatoid arthritis. But exactly how or why hasn't been previously understood.
"We've now been able to replicate those conditions in laboratory studies, by inducing both gum disease and arthritis in mice, to better understand how one disease influences another. We found that the mice with gum disease developed significantly worse arthritis than those without gum disease, confirming our suspicions," Ms Cantley says.
This research also found signs of bone loss in the joints of mice with gum disease alone, and bone loss in the jaws of mice with arthritis alone. "So not only did the gum disease influence the joint tissues, but arthritis influenced tissues in the mouth," Ms Cantley says.
Clinical studies are now underway to determine if treating periodontitis can help to reduce the symptoms associated with arthritis.
Along with supervisors Associate Professor David Haynes (School of Medical Sciences) and Professor Mark Bartold (School of Dentistry), Ms Cantley is also researching the potential treatment of both conditions by using compounds already used in psychiatry and as anti-cancer agents.
These compounds – known as histone deacetylase inhibitors – are becoming more widely considered because of their anti-inflammatory properties. "Our results are promising so far, but the relationship between these two common diseases is very complex and we still have more to learn," Ms Cantley says.
Melissa Cantley is presenting her research on the link between gum disease and arthritis at this week's national Fresh Science finals, being held at the Melbourne Museum from 15-18 October. Fresh Science gives early career researchers the opportunity to communicate their science with the media and the public. Ms Cantley is the finalist for South Australia.
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