There’s at least one good reason men should floss, but most dentists are too cowardly to share it: healthy boners.
Poor dental hygiene is strongly associated with erectile dysfunction, or ED, so if the bad breath doesn’t disappoint in the bedroom, your penis might. Men in their 30s who have severe gum disease are three times more likely to struggle maintaining their erections, research reveals. Additional data indicates that men with erectile dysfunction were 80 percent more likely to have chronic gum disease than men without ED. Although other variables like smoking, poor diet and stress could contribute to these conditions, the relationship is basically undeniable: One study found that when men who had moderate to severe ED and gum disease received treatment for their dental problems, it only took three months for their erections to improve.
When men don’t brush and floss regularly, sticky bacteria known as plaque builds up, hardens and eventually infects their gums, the tissue that holds teeth in place. This chronic inflammation of the gums damages the lining of blood vessels and eventually, if not treated it, can lead to the death of the cells. Meanwhile, when men become sexually aroused, healthy blood vessels naturally widen to increase blood flow throughout the body, a process known as vasodilation. But when blood vessels are damaged by dirty mouths, dilation is reduced, blood flow is decreased and weaker, less consistent erections result.
“The chronic inflammation present in gum disease is system-wide, not just present in the mouth,” explains dentist Mark Burhenne, founder of Ask the Dentist and author of The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox. “This inflammation may lead to death of blood vessel cells in the penis, just as it does in the mouth. Your doctor working to help address erectile dysfunction will very likely recommend a trip to the dentist due to the close connection between these two issues.”
To prevent this, dental hygienist Anastasia Turchetta recommends brushing for two minutes at least twice a day, using fluoride toothpaste and rinsing effectively. Electric toothbrushes, water piks and medicated rinses like chlorhexidine can help as well. But generally, most gum disease comes from the failure to floss effectively — or at all. “Based on my 30 years of experience, many people do not effectively floss,” Turchetta says. Along those lines, the American Dental Association recommends flossing once a day, but only about 37 percent of people actually do, whereas 32 percent never floss at all.
The American Academy of Periodontology is careful to note that chronic gum disease is generally correlated with a number of chronic illnesses (e.g., heart disease, prostate cancer and impotence). And although impotence and erectile dysfunction are often used interchangeably, ED is more common, can be circumstantial (nerves with a new partner, for instance), and doesn’t necessarily occur all the time. Impotence, on the other hand, is more rare, constant and can result in a lack of desire to have sex, along with an inability to get an erection.
Urologists often refer men with ED to the dentist, but it rarely works the other way around. Dentists don’t often proactively tell men to floss for their peens, not just their mouths. More likely (and probably appropriately), dental professionals often warn patients that gum disease increases their risk of heart disease by 20 percent. In fairness, too, that is a kind of roundabout way of talking about ED. After all, erections are a very literal extension of cardiovascular health. Simply put, the blood in a boner has to come from somewhere, and when it’s not filling up the way should, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying issue.
In any event, as Turchetta puts it, “The link between erectile dysfunction and bad oral hygiene is nothing to smile about.”