A recent study by the University of Louisville’s School of Dentistry found that poor oral health may increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers may have discovered a link between the bacterium that causes gingivitis and the early onset of rheumatoid arthritis. There’s also a link between the bacterium and the progression and severity of the disorder, which causes the small joints in the hands and feet to become painful and swollen.

“Flossing and brushing regularly is important for preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Not only does it remove the bacteria that causes tooth decay, it also gets rid of the plaque that can cause gingivitis,” says Dr. Janice Mummery, founder of Princeview Dental in Etobicoke, Ontario. “Maintaining good oral hygiene has many benefits aside from brightening smiles; for example, brushing twice a day may just help those suffering from arthritis.”

Dr. Mummery explains that while rheumatoid arthritis is not age-specific, it commonly begins after the age of 40, with women and people with gum disease being far more likely to be afflicted. People with gingivitis are also more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.