Photo Credit: by Alex Padurariu, Unsplash.com
Admit it, there are times when your late-night fun might make you go to bed without brushing your teeth. We get it. After a girls’ night out with a lot of libations, women often go to bed without taking their makeup off. Or you wake up early and hit the ground running before stopping to brush, rinse, and floss. We’ve all been there and done it. But, there’s a new reason that men in particular need to take care of their teeth, gums, and mouth — bad oral habits might cause erectile dysfunction.
A recent research study, published in the British Dental Journal, reveals that men who experience gum disease are 3.2 times more likely to have erectile dysfunction. The Mayo Clinic describes gum disease, medically known as periodontitis, as “a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and, without treatment, can destroy the bone that supports your teeth. Periodontitis can cause teeth to loosen or lead to tooth loss.” It is highly preventable and typically caused by poor oral hygiene that results in a buildup of plaque bacteria.
The study concluded that harmful bacteria and inflammation can cause circulating inflammation mediators that enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. These mediators are messengers that act on blood vessels. An increase in them causes dysfunction in blood vessel walls, specifically the penile vessels in this case, and means they can’t dilate properly and allow good blood flow, and you want a good, sustainable blood flow to the genital area, causing erectile dysfunction.
“Very few are aware of the connection between oral health and sexual health. However, poor oral health can have a colossal effect on your sexual health. It has been reported that 322 million men will experience erectile dysfunction by the year 2025, but taking simple steps to improve your oral health could significantly reduce your risk,” says Anna Middleton, a leading dental hygienist and founder of London Hygienist.
“In the last ten years,” continues Middleton, “studies show that there has been increased evidence in linking erectile dysfunction to gum disease, which is deeply concerning. If you do experience erectile dysfunction, improving your oral hygiene and reducing your risks of gum disease could help and likewise, those looking to avoid such problems, should maintain good oral hygiene and regular visits to their dental hygienist.”
CAUSES OF GUM DISEASE
Periodontitis usually starts with a buildup of plaque, which is a sticky film composed mostly of bacteria, on the teeth and around the gums. A little bit of plague is normal, and getting your teeth professionally cleaned in a dentist office once or twice a year (sometimes more if you regularly have a buildup of plaque) is the best defense against a dangerous amount of buildup. According to the Mayo Clinic, plaque can turn into gum disease in these ways:
1. Starches & Sugars Interact: Plaque forms on your teeth when starches and sugars in food interact with bacteria normally found in your mouth. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day removes plaque, but plaque re-forms quickly.
2. Plaque Hardens: Plaque can harden under your gum line into tartar (calculus) if it stays on your teeth. Tartar is more difficult to remove, and it's filled with bacteria. The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more damage they can do. You can't get rid of tartar by brushing and flossing — you need a professional dental cleaning to remove it.
3. Time Is of the Essence: Ongoing gum inflammation can cause periodontitis, eventually causing pockets to develop between your gums and teeth that fill with plaque, tartar, and bacteria. In time, these pockets become deeper, filling with more bacteria. If not treated, these deep infections cause a loss of tissue and bone, and ultimately you may lose one or more teeth. Also, ongoing chronic inflammation can put a strain on your immune system.
Plaque can also lead to gingivitis, which is the mildest form of gum disease that causes an irritation and inflammation in your gums, but it is not yet directly related to erectile dysfunction as periodontitis is.
SIGNS OF GUM DISEASE
If your mouth, gums, or teeth are in pain or you have any of the following signs, consult your dentist immediately. Here is what to look out for…
* Bleeding gums
* Red, or discolored, gums. Health gums are typically pink
* Soft gums. Healthy gums are firm
* Swollen or puffy gums
* Sore or tender gums
* Bad breath
* Pus between the teeth and gums
* Pain while chewing or brushing
* New spaces between your teeth
* Receding gums
* A change in how your teeth fit together when you bite
STEPS FOR GOOD ORAL HEALTH
The good news is that periodontitis is largely preventable. A consistent oral hygiene routine that includes brushing, flossing, and rinsing twice a day and regular check-ups with the dentist are key to prevention.
Here are Middleton’s tips for healthy oral hygiene:
1. Brush Twice a Day: “Many of us forget to brush our gums when we brush our teeth, but brushing your gums is integral because this is where plaque will sit. When using an electric toothbrush place the toothbrush bristles against the teeth at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Hold the handle gently with a light grip and only apply light pressure. Glide the brush across your teeth and gums gently, allowing your brush to do most of the work,” says Middleton.
2. Clean In Between Teeth. “Brushing only cleans three out of the five tooth surfaces. However, interdental cleaning with floss or brushes helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which can occur when food and plaque are left lodged between teeth. If you have the space between your teeth, then opt for interdental brushes and always use the biggest size possible – you may need more than one brush size. If your teeth are tight together then dental floss is recommended. Do this once a day, preferably at night and in front of the mirror. Can't floss, won't floss - try a water flosser to help clean in between your teeth,” says Middleton.
3. Use Mouthwash. “The most important thing you can do is brush effectively and clean in between teeth daily to remove plaque. You can then rinse with a fluoride mouthwash clinically proven to reduce plaque for additional benefits,” says Middleton.
4. See a Dental Health Care Professional. “A quick trip to the hygienist will help to diagnose if you have gum disease and receive treatment, as well as a tailored oral hygiene routine,” says Middleton.
Likewise, the Mayo Clinic recommends seeing your dentist for cleanings every six to 12 months. But, if you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing periodontitis, such as having a dry mouth, obesity, taking certain medications, or smoking, then you may need to see a dentist more often.
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