Bad breath and bleeding gums are not sexy.
The results showed that periodontitis impaired erectile function in rats.
The findings agree with a previous study that showed periodontitis is more common in men with erectile dysfunction than men without erectile dysfunction.
Dentists and doctors should be made aware of the connection, said the researchers from Luzhou Medical College in China.
"Identifying and treating periodontitis in the patient presenting with or without [erectile dysfunction] may improve the patient’s sexual health," the researchers wrote.
However, others say the link is a bit of a stretch.
"I don’t think your gums are related to your penis in any reasonable way," said Dr. Andrew Kramer, a surgeon and erectile dysfunction expert at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Instead, periodontitis may be an indicator of overall poor health, which increases the risk of erectile dysfunction, Kramer said. Conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes have also been linked with erectile dysfunction.
More research is needed to understand whether inflammatory diseases, which include periodontitis, are a cause of erectile dysfunction, he said.
Gum disease and erectile dysfunction
Periodontitis has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, and, heart disease has been linked with erectile dysfunction. The researchers wondered whether periodontitis might be directly tied to erectile dysfunction, and how the two might be connected.
They found periodontitis increased inflammation in the rats' bodies. Inflammation is an immune response and can be beneficial when your body is fighting off infection, but chronically high levels are known to be bad for overall health.
Rats with periodontitis also had less of an enzyme involved in achieving an erection, called eNOS. This enzyme produces nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow to the penis.
The inflammation produced by periodontitis may decrease nitric oxide, which then interferes with erection, the researchers said.
Role of inflammation
The study is "one of the first indications that inflammation could have a negative impact on erectile function," said Dr. David Meldrum, an infertility expert and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.
Earlier studies have found the men with erectile dysfunction have higher levels of certain inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein, in their bodies, Meldrum said.
Another major cause of inflammation is abdominal fat, Meldrum said, which is also a known risk factor for erectile dysfunction.
Inflammation is also thought to play a role in heart disease, so it may be a common factor in periodontitis, heart disease and erectile dysfunction.
More research is needed to see whether treating periodontitis could also treat erectile dysfunction, the researchers said.
The study was published online June 23 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Pass it on: Periodontitis impairs erectile function in animals, but it's not clear if the same thing happens in people.