Treating Gum Disease May Treat Erectile Dysfunction

erectile dysfunction, gums
(Image credit: Dreamstime)

Better-smelling breath may not be the only way that treating gum disease benefits your sex life, new research says improving the gums may also improve erectile dysfunction.

Previous studies have linked erectile dysfunction (ED) with periodontitis (inflammation of the gums), and now, a new study of patients in Turkey shows that treating periodontitis in affected patients appears to lessen the symptoms of erectile dysfunction after three months.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess a potential link between the severity of ED and the treatment of periodontal disease," wrote the authors, who are affiliated with Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey. "The results revealed that the severity of ED improved following periodontal treatment."

The study involved 120 patients with severe or moderate erectile dysfunction and chronic periodontitis. Half received treatment for their gum disease, while half did not. They filled out questionnaires about their erectile function, and patients who received treatment for their gum disease reported that levels of erectile function improved after three months.

The Turkish research group is not the first to link the two conditions. Past studies in India, Israel and Taiwan have linked periodontal disease with erectile dysfunction; some authors have speculated that gum disease and erection problems share a common cause, while others have suggested that gum disease can cause erectile problems.

The new findings add weight to the idea that gum disease may cause erectile problems.

But the issue is difficult to study, and there has been no strong explanation for why gum disease could have such low-reaching effects.

"Yes, I feel that an association does exist," said Dr. Andrew Kramer, an associate professor of urology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. However, "there is nothing causal between the two," he said.

There doesn't appear to be an explanation for how tooth and gum diseases could affect nerves or blood flow to the male genitalia, Kramer said. However, there are many common denominators that may be behind the apparent link.

"I feel that the causal element is probably vascular disease, poor general health status, lack of medical attention (gum disease), underlying diabetes/hypertension, or all of the above," he said. "They are related and correlated, but due to an underlying common factor."

For their part, the authors sounded a similar note of caution in their conclusions.

"Theresults of the present study provide evidence that periodontal treatment can help to reduce ED," the authors wrote. "In addition, the findings are consistent with those of previous studies in which ED was found to be associated with low-grade inflammation caused by periodontal disease."

However, further studies should clarify exactly how the two conditions may interact, they said.

The findings have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, where they will appear in a future issue.

Pass it on: Treating gum disease might improve erection problems, but more studies are needed. 

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Joe Brownstein
Joe Brownstein is a contributing writer to Live Science, where he covers medicine, biology and technology topics. He has a Master of Science and Medical Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing and natural sciences from Johns Hopkins University.