If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the mouth is the portal to our health. Oral conditions are associated with general health problems and may be an early indicator that you have another disease or disorder lurking in your body.

The medical community has clearly established a link between periodontal disease--or periodontitis--and other diseases, especially coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's and chronic inflammatory conditions. Periodontitis is a disease of the tissues and structures that surround our teeth. It's the technical term for gum disease.

Arthritis and periodontal disease are similar. Both are chronic inflammatory conditions. Arthritis wreaks havoc on the cartilage and connective tissue in joints, destroying bones, wearing away at our bone density, and making our bones fragile and vulnerable to fracture.

Periodontitis is persistent inflammation in the gums. Medical experts suspect toxins from bacterial infections cause this inflammation. It can destroy the soft and hard tissues in the mouth, reducing the connective tissue that attaches the root of a tooth to the jawbone--called periodontal attachment loss.

Evidence suggests that periodontal disease may initiate and maintain the autoimmune inflammatory response in Rheumatoid Arthritis and is therefore a risk factor we can influence. Symptoms of periodontal disease should prompt physicians to screen patients for Rheumatoid Arthritis and other disorders.

The link between the two diseases goes both ways. Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis may also be at increased risk for developing periodontal disease. The prevalence of periodontal disease in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients is at least twice the incidence found in the general population.

Researchers believe that oral hygiene may only account for a part of this association. However, they note that patients with arthritis may have limited dexterity in their hands, which can lead to a decline in oral hygiene.

Treating the inflammation of periodontitis provides relief from the disease and may help manage other existing chronic inflammatory diseases. Studies have shown that non-surgical periodontal therapy has a positive effect on the signs and symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis, regardless of which medicine the patient takes.

If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, maintain good oral health, see your dentist regularly and seek treatment immediately if you develop periodontal infections or other problems in your mouth.