Taking Care of Your Teeth Could Help Prevent Chronic Joint Pain

When Rice University computational biologist Vicky Yao found traces of bacteria associated with periodontal disease in samples collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients, she was not sure what to make of it.

Her finding helped spark a series of experiments that confirmed a connection between arthritis flare-ups and periodontitis. 

“Data gathered in experiments from living organisms or cells or tissue grown in petri dishes is really important to confirm hypotheses, but, at the same time, this data perhaps holds more information than we are immediately able to derive from it,” Yao said.

Yao’s hunch was confirmed when she took a deeper look into data collected from rheumatoid arthritis patients by Dana Orange, an associate professor of clinical investigation and a rheumatologist, and Bob Darnell, a professor and attending physician at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“Orange, working with Darnell, collected data from arthritis patients at regular intervals while, at the same time, monitoring when the flares happened,” Yao said. “The idea was that perhaps looking at this data retroactively, some pattern would become visible giving clues as to what might cause the arthritis to flare up.

When she looked into it, Yao found that the germs in the samples that changed consistently across patients prior to flares were largely ones associated with gum disease.

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

“I’m really interested in using computational approaches to bridge the gap between available experimental data and ways to interpret it. Computational analysis is a way to help interpret data and prioritize hypotheses for clinicians or experimental scientists to test.”


R. Camille Brewer, Tobias V. Lanz, Caryn R. Hale, Gregory D. Sepich-Poore, Cameron Martino, Austin D. Swafford, Thomas S. Carroll, Sarah Kongpachith, Lisa K. Blum, Serra E. Elliott, Nathalie E. Blachere, Salina Parveen, John Fak, Vicky Yao, Olga Troyanskaya, Mayu O. Frank, Michelle S. Bloom, Shaghayegh Jahanbani, Alejandro M. Gomez, Radhika Iyer, Nitya S. Ramadoss, Orr Sharpe, Sangeetha Chandrasekaran, Lindsay B. Kelmenson, Qian Wang, Heidi Wong, Holly L. Torres, Mark Wiesen, Dana T. Graves, Kevin D. Deane, V. Michael Holers, Rob Knight, Robert B. Darnell, William H. Robinson, Dana E. Orange. Oral mucosal breaks trigger anti-citrullinated bacterial and human protein antibody responses in rheumatoid arthritis. Science Translational Medicine, 2023; 15 (684) DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abq8476

Rice University. “Taking care of your teeth could help prevent chronic joint pain: Scientist spots clue in discarded data that sets research on the right track.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/03/230306101413.htm>.

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Photo by Atika Akhtar