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What Should You Know About Dental Care When You Have An Artificial Joint?

If you've recently undergone a knee, hip, or other joint replacement, you may already be enjoying some of the benefits -- often including an improved range of motion and pain-free movement. While having a deteriorated and painful joint replaced with an artificial one can feel like rolling back the clock, artificial joints can present some unexpected complications when it comes to your oral health. Read on to learn more about the specific dental concerns faced by those with artificial joints, as well as what you can do to preserve your health (both oral and otherwise) following joint surgery.

How does having an artificial joint impact your dental health? 

When you had your joint replacement surgery, you were likely placed on a prophylactic regimen of antibiotics to avoid infection of the surgical wound or your new joint. Your surgeon may have also spent some time instructing you about avoiding activities that could potentially lead to infection by allowing bacteria to penetrate minor skin wounds (such as swimming in lakes or non-chlorinated swimming pools). 

These precautionary measures are taken because artificial joints are much more susceptible to infection than biological joints. Because of their smooth surface and lack of internal antibodies, artificial joints can be prone to the development of "biofilm" -- a bacterial film that covers the joint and could necessitate its removal to help prevent further infection. You could even find that your surgeon is reluctant to replace your prosthetic joint for fear of another infection, requiring you to live with a "spacer" or other device that poses less risk of infection rather than a true artificial joint.

However, avoiding external bacteria is only one part of the equation. Your mouth is by far the most bacteria-laden area of your body -- and while most of these bacteria are natural and harmless when confined to your mouth, they can cause problems when permitted to enter and multiply in your bloodstream. Vigorous brushing and flossing that leads to bleeding gums can potentially introduce harmful bacteria to your bloodstream, and once these bacteria seize on your artificial joint, you could find yourself in trouble. It's important to be proactive in managing your dental health to avoid any internal infections that could compromise your new joint or your overall health.

What should you do to protect yourself when receiving dental treatment? 

​Fortunately, although your risk of infection of an artificial joint is higher than the risk to a natural joint, the overall risk level remains very low. By taking a few precautions before seeking dental care (and by improving your overall dental health), you should be able to reduce this risk even further. 

  • Get a handle on gum disease

If your gums regularly bleed during brushing and flossing, it is possible that you are already in the beginning stages of gum disease or gingivitis. Other conditions (like pregnancy) can increase your odds of gum bleeding. When your gums are fragile enough to develop wounds from moderate friction, they're also more permeable to potentially harmful staph or other bacteria that are constantly present in your mouth. 

Managing your gum disease and reversing any damage that has already occurred is key not only to maintaining oral health, but to minimizing your risk of developing a severe infection from engaging in normal dental activity. 

  • Keep your dentist and doctors informed 

Before undergoing any dental procedure that could potentially leach bacteria into your bloodstream, you will want to ensure your general dentist is aware that you have an artificial joint. You may be given intravenous antibiotics during your procedure to minimize infection risks. 

By that same token, you'll want to ensure that any doctors or other medical providers are aware of your artificial joint so that they can design a treatment protocol that will take your higher infection risk into account.