Gum Disease and Erectile Dysfunction: What’s the Connection?

Here’s why keeping up on oral health is crucial to total-body wellness.

Medically reviewed in December 2021

Updated on December 14, 2021

Having a fresh, healthy mouth not only looks and feels good. It may also have a surprising benefit for sexual well-being. Research suggests that maintaining good oral hygiene might help prevent erectile dysfunction (ED).

A limited number of studies have indicated an association between ED and chronic gum disease, also known as periodontitis. A meta-analysis of nine such studies published in March 2018 in the American Journal of Men's Health found that the two conditions may be linked. More comprehensive studies are needed to confirm the relationship, but the authors suggested that men with ED should be referred to a dentist for a full oral evaluation and treatment to try to address this potential contributing risk factor.

Inflammation may be to blame
Gum disease is an infection in your gums caused by bacteria. The bacteria congregate and multiply in plaque, the deposits that form on and between teeth. Red, swollen gums that bleed when you brush or floss are the usual signs of gum disease, but in some cases, you may have gum disease without knowing it.

An infection in your gums causes inflammation, which is your immune system’s typical response when it comes to fighting invaders. The problem is, when the underlying infection that triggers inflammation isn’t addressed, the bacteria and resulting inflammation may spread beyond your mouth and throughout the rest of the body.

Blood vessels are particularly vulnerable to the scourge of inflammation. This can contribute to a narrowing or blocking of blood vessels, as well as the transfer of bacteria to other parts of the body.

Inflammation appears to play a role in the hardening of blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, a pair of studies published in 2020 linked gum disease to a higher rate of strokes caused by hardening of the blood vessels in the brain. Gum disease was also linked to blood vessel blockages in the brain that hadn’t yet caused any symptoms. The studies suggested that treating gum disease, along with other risk factors for stroke, could reduce narrowing of blood vessels in the brain.

“A healthy mouth is a healthy life,” says Rita Medwid, a dentist based in Stuart, Florida. “There is a direct relationship between the health of your mouth and your overall physical health.”

Brush up on the basics
Although there is not yet an established cause-and-effect relationship between gum disease and ED, there’s no reason to wait to take better care of your mouth. Follow these tips for healthier teeth and gums:

Practice the 2-minute drill. Be sure to brush for at least two minutes, twice a day. Think of your teeth as a set of four quadrants. Spend 30 seconds brushing the outside and inside of the teeth in each quadrant.

Toss your brush quarterly. The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. That’s because a brush that is frayed or worn can’t effectively clean your teeth and gums.

Thread those spaces. Just like brushing, flossing once a day should be automatic, and it may help boost your overall health.

Activate your saliva. Your body's best defense against cavities is saliva. Drink plenty of water to keep it flowing and skip sodas and sugary drinks.

Check in with your dentist regularly. Visit your dentist twice a year—or more often, as advised—to help prevent problems and treat them when they arise.

Not only will you enjoy a clean and healthy mouth, but maintaining your teeth and gums in this way may pay dividends for your sexual health and your overall well-being.

Sources:

Kellesarian SV, Kellesarian TV, Ros Malignaggi V, et al. Association between periodontal disease and erectile dysfunction: A systematic review. Am J Mens Health. 2018;12(2):338-346.
Paloma de Oliveira B, Câmara AC, Aguiar CM. Prevalence of Asymptomatic Apical Periodontitis and its Association with Coronary Artery Disease in a Brazilian Subpopulation. Acta Stomatol Croat. 2017;51(2):106-112.
National Institutes of Health. Periodontal (Gum) Disease. 2021. Accessed December 5, 2021.
American Heart Association. Gum disease, inflammation, hardened arteries may be linked to stroke risk. February 12, 2020.
American Dental Association. Brushing Your Teeth. Accessed December 5, 2021.
American Dental Association. 5 Steps to a Flawless Floss. Accessed December 5, 2021.
American Dental Association. Saliva. Accessed December 5, 2021. 

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