“Erectile dysfunction and chronic periodontitis in humans are caused by similar risk factors, such as aging, smoking, diabetes mellitus and coronary artery disease,” Oguz explained. His study was published Dec. 4 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The researchers compared 80 men with erectile dysfunction to 82 men without the problem. All were between 30 and 40 years old and were patients of Oguz’s urology department.
People were excluded from the study if they had a systemic disease such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, if they had been undergoing therapy for gum disease within the last year, if they were taking oral antibiotics within the last six months and if they smoked. The results of the study were also adjusted for body mass index (a measure of body fat), household income and education level.
All of the patients underwent a periodontal exam by a periodontist who had no knowledge of whether any patient had an erectile dysfunction problem. The researchers found that chronic periodontitis is present more often in patients with erectile dysfunction than in those without the problem.
Some experts questioned the study results.
“Periodontal disease might be associated with other underlying disease, but erectile dysfunction? I would strongly disagree; it’s not a causative condition,” said Dr. Bruce Gilbert, a professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine, in Lake Success, N.Y. “But I would say that the study results implore us to consider that diseases of the mouth are something to consider when we assess the overall health of the body.”
Gilbert was concerned that researchers did not find out enough about the men who reported erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction, he explained, is typically a problem for much older men. “The problem can be neurological, hormonal, psychogenic, especially in men of this age,” he noted. “The participants just filled out a form about sexual dysfunction? That was not enough.”
Dr. Nancy Newhouse, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, agreed. But she added that the study makes an important contribution because it shows how diseases of the mouth can affect the rest of the body. “Our medical colleagues don’t spend much time dealing with the oral cavity,” she said. “The mouth is connected.”
Newhouse said people with evidence of periodontal disease — a treatable chronic condition — should be wondering about their general health. “If your gums bleed, you’re really not healthy.”
While the study found an association between severe gum disease and sexual problems for men in their 30s, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.