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Could Gum Disease Be a Risk Factor for Erectile Dysfunction?

Periodontal disease, a contributor to chronically poor health, is also more common in young patients with erectile dysfunction.

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--by Joann Jovinelly A disappointed young man

The Gist

A little bad breath might be a symptom of periodontal (gum) disease, a much larger health problem that can be a contributing factor in many other conditions, including erectile dysfunction (ED). 

At least that’s the conclusion of a new study published today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. In that study, young men in their thirties with severe gum disease were two to three times more likely to also have erection problems. 

One out of every two American adults ages 30 and older, or 64.7 million people, has advanced periodontal disease, according to recent findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In adults ages 70 and older, that prevalence increases to 70 percent. Periodontal disease is most common in men, especially those who smoke. 

According to the 2012 study, which was authored by Faith Oguz, M.D., from Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, researchers focused on young men in order to assess the effect of periodontal disease that was not influenced by aging. Generally speaking, two thirds of patients with ED suffer from the condition due to a physical problem, mainly with the vessels that supply blood to the penis, but it may also be caused by emotional stress or depression. 

Oguz's findings are not all that surprising, however, since periodontal disease has been linked to other vascular diseases in the recent past, including coronary heart disease, though much of that research is not 100 percent causal. In the 2012 study, young men with systemic diseases were excluded from the study population. 

The Expert Take

According to Oguz, “Erectile dysfunction and chronic periodontal disease in humans is caused by similar risk factors, such as aging, smoking, type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease.” 

Oguz says that his study’s results point to the need for more research, and that chronic gum disease should be considered a risk factor for ED. “Erectile dysfunction is a major health problem that affects the quality of life for some 150 million men and their partners worldwide,” he said. 

Paul Eke, M.P.H., Ph.D., a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the recent CDC study, concludes that advanced periodontal disease is now a “serious public health problem.” 

Pamela McClain, D.D.S., President of the American Academy of Periodontology and a practicing periodontist in Aurora, Colorodo, says an annual screening by a qualified dental professional is the only way to determine whether you have periodontitis, a disease that creates bacteria-accumulating gaps between the teeth and gums. 

“To really know if you have periodontal disease, a dental professional must examine each tooth above and below the gum line. A visual exam alone, even by the most qualified dentist, is not enough,” McClain explains.

Source and Method

Turkish researchers compared 80 men ages 30 to 40 with ED to a control group of 82 healthy men. After adjusting for other factors, such as body mass index, household income, and education level, men with “severe periodontal disease were 3.29 times more likely to suffer with erection problems than men with healthy gums.” 

According to the findings, 53 percent of the men with ED had inflamed gums, compared with 23 percent in the control group

The Takeaway

With physicians and dentists theorizing ever more frequently about the relationships between gum health and chronic disease, brushing twice daily—for at least two minutes each time—is essential, as is flossing between teeth.  

Annual check-ups by a dental professional may be the only way to determine your risk of developing periodontitis, a chronic condition that requires regular exams and ongoing monitoring. 

Other Research

Periodontal disease and its potential role in accelerating chronic disease is a hot topic in academic circles. Since the mid-2000s, severe gum disease has been implicated as a potential risk factor in a growing number of conditions, including type 2 diabetes, early-onset dementia, and even psoriasis.   

Researchers speculate that the bacteria that live inside the mouth may be a contributing factor in the chronic inflammation present in many diseases, including cancer. In this 2012 study, rates of gingivitis were twice as high in patients who had pancreatic cancer as in the healthy control group.  

In 2010, researchers also linked periodontal disease with rheumatoid arthritis in this study, published in the Journal of Rheumatology.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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