Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is the inability to get and maintain an erection which is sufficient for satisfactory sexual intercourse. Recently a study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine has shown that men with erectile dysfunction (ED) are three times more likely to have gum disease than men who do not have ED.
This does not surprise Periodontist (gum disease specialist) Dr Peter Galgut – twice winner of UK Dentist of the Year – who explained that the researchers who conducted the study found that 53 per cent of the men with ED had severe gum disease compared with 23 per cent who did not.
The study involved 80 men with ED and 82 without the condition, none of whom smoked (since smoking is a risk factor for both ED and gum disease). The study participants were restricted to 30 to 40 years of age in an effort to rule out age as a risk factor and after allowing for this as well as, body mass index (BMI), household income and education status, the association between compromised oral health and ED prevailed. The study authors concluded “We think that it will be of benefit to consider periodontal disease as a causative factor in the clinical condition of ED.”
So what is the link between the two conditions, which are seemingly unrelated? According to Dr Galgut it is ‘ongoing inflammation’. As he explained: “Inflammation is the body’s immune response to infection which can enter the blood stream via damage to the gums to circulate to other parts of the body”. The presence of gum disease is indicated by bleeding gums, and if left untreated, can cause tooth loss as the body’s immune cells fail to suppress the microorganisms in the mouth, loosening the gums around the teeth. As ‘pockets of infection’ around the necks of the teeth form, bacteria leach into the bloodstream, damaging blood vessels, compromising many other normal bodily functions. Because erectile problems are caused by impaired blood flow in the penis, there appears now to be a correlation between poor oral health and ED.
Dr Galgut added “Numerous clinical studies have reported that chronic periodontitis may bring about or exacerbate systemic diseases such as coronary heart disease and it has also been implicated in problems relating to diabetes, obesity and now it has also been linked with erection dysfunction.”
So how do you know if you have gum disease? If your gums bleed when you clean your teeth, that is an early sign. Other indications include bad breath or a funny taste in your mouth. So what can men with any of these symptoms and ED do? Fortunately there are several things they can do immediately: Effective tooth – and gum - brushing can keep the harmful oral bacteria at bay. It is crucial to not only use the brush properly to ensure that you get rid of all of the dental plaque in your mouth, but also to use a good quality manual or electric toothbrush and possibly seek professional advice as to how to use it properly to ensure that you get to all of the surfaces of your teeth and gums. If you have any of these symptoms you need to see a dentist or hygienist who can detect gum disease, or if necessary, seek the help of a Specialist such as Dr Galgut.
Most importantly of course is to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle to optimise your body’s resistance to infection and maximise your general health. Giving up smoking and losing weight are both well-known risk factors in many illnesses including periodontal disease, as well as regular and vigourous exercise and adopting a healthy diet all contribute to achieving general wellness and first rate body functions.
Worryingly though, the British Dental Health Foundation suggests that women are twice as likely as men to go for regular dental check-ups. Dentists and dental hygienists are trained to diagnose the presence of gum disease and help patients to overcome not only the infection in their mouths, but also to help overcome problems caused by poor diet and smoking.
“ED is somewhat of a taboo subject and not something men talk about. However this is a risk factor over which men have some control without the need to discuss their problem,” according to Dr Galgut. “If you have healthy gums, then you have just removed one of the things which may be affecting your overall health and your ED.”