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Erectile Dysfunction and Gum Disease Linked Again

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A new study is the latest to find a link between gum disease and erectile dysfunction (ED), although reason for a possible association between the two medical conditions remains unclear.

The study of men in their 30s found that who had ED were about three times more likely to have chronic periodontitis (gum disease) compared with their counterparts who didn't have ED, according to researchers at Inonu University in Turkey. The study confirms previous findings of researchers in India, Israel and Taiwan.

The results "support the theory that [chronic periodontitis] is present more often in patients with erectile dysfunction than those without, and should be considered as a factor by clinicians treating men with erection problems," said study researcher and urologist Dr. Fatih Oguz, in a statement.

Researchers used several measurements to look at the severity of 162 men's gum disease, such as the amount of plaque and bleeding during examination. The men completed questionnaires to report their level of erectile dysfunction.

Among the men in the study, 19 of the 82 those without ED has chronic periodontitis, while 42 of the 80 with ED had the gum condition.

The link held when the researchers took into account factors that could affect the results, such as the men's body mass indexes, incomes and education levels (smokers were excluded from the study).

Dr. Mark Reynolds, a professor and chair of the department of periodontics at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, said that the seeming relationship between ED and gum disease is compelling, but studies haven't shown that having gum disease causes ED, or vice versa.

Instead, it is very likely that there is another factor that causes both the gum disease and ED in men, he said. A number of factors, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can affect them both.

For example, men's smoking in the past may be one reason the association has been found in studies abroad, where tobacco use is higher, Reynolds told MyHealthNewsDaily.

But the Turkish researchers recently completed a three-month study in which patients with periodontal disease were treated for their gum disease, and were found to have some improvement in erectile function. However, the researchers said the mechanism underlying the improvement remains unclear, and more research needs to be done.

At the same time, Reynolds said, there is always a possibility that inflammation in the gums can have an impact elsewhere.

"Inflammation, regardless of the source…can be harmful," he said.

The new findings appear online today (Dec. 4) in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Pass it on: Gum disease and erectile dysfunction may be linked, but the reason for the link remains unclear.

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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.