Taking Care of Your Teeth Could Help Prevent Arthritis and Joint Pain


Taking care of your teeth could help prevent chronic joint pain, according to a scientist who spotted a clue in discarded data.

Rice University computational biologist Vicky Yao found traces of bacteria associated with periodontal disease in samples collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients, helping spur research that confirmed a connection between the diseases.

Tracing this connection between the two conditions could help develop therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the lining of the joints and can cause heart-, lung- and eye-problems.

It underlines the importance of regular brushing—and the new research approach also could prove fruitful for other diseases, such as cancer.

“I was curious about this tool that allowed you to detect microbes floating around in human samples,” said Dr. Yao, the lead author of the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “This data perhaps holds more information than we are immediately able to derive from it.”

Yao’s hunch was confirmed when she took a deeper look into data collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients by colleagues at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute working with on a different project that tracked changes in gene expression during arthritis attacks.

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Studying these bacteria they found that germs associated with gum disease changed consistently prior to arthritic flare ups.

“One of the things that came up was, how cool would it be if you could prescribe some kind of mouthwash to help prevent rheumatoid arthritis flares.”

The discovery of meaningful information in the microbial signatures in the leftover human samples inspired her to take a similar approach in looking at data from cancer patients.

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

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“For instance, if having a tumor creates this hotbed of specific microbes that we recognize, then we can maybe use that knowledge as a means to diagnose the cancer sooner or in a less invasive or costly way.

“Or, if you have microbes that have a very strong association with survival rates, that can help with prognosis. And if 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.”

One of the better known examples of a pathogen associated with cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV).

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

“I am really interested in using computational approaches to bridge the gap between available experimental data and ways to interpret it.

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“Computational analysis is a way to help interpret data and prioritize hypotheses for clinicians or experimental scientists to test.”

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