Gum disease linked to erectile dysfunction

2 December 2016

Advanced gum disease (known as periodontitis) has been linked to an increased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), giving men even more reason to floss regularly and brush their teeth twice a day.

A recent meta-analysis (which combines the results of many separate studies) has shown that men with chronic periodontitis were more than twice as likely to suffer from ED compared with those without the gum disease.

Periodontitis happens when untreated plaque builds up on the gum margin next to the teeth, leading to separation of the tooth and gum. This separation leaves pockets where bacteria collect, causing inflammation and swelling.

Doctors are still unsure of the exact mechanism that may underlie the association between periodontitis and erectile dysfunction, but one theory is that these bacteria can then easily gain entry to the blood vessels around the teeth and once in the bloodstream, go anywhere in the body and cause ongoing inflammation.

Inflammation is a known risk factor for hardening of the arteries and coronary artery disease (which can cause angina and heart attacks). Similar problems in the penile blood vessels can lead to reduced blood flow in the penis, making it more difficult to get and keep an erection. Given that the blood vessels in the penis are much smaller than the major blood vessels that supply the heart, it makes sense that they may show the effects of any problems before heart blood vessels do.  

Remember, erectile dysfunction should always be investigated by your doctor, as it may be a warning sign of future heart problems.

Last Reviewed: 2 December 2016
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References

Liu LH et al. Chronic periodontitis and the risk of erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Impotence Res 2016: 10 Nov.
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