Floss, or you may flop in bed

2013-02-28 00:00

BRUSH your teeth twice a day and what goes up may just stay up — if you’re a man.

So says the South African Dental Association (Sada), which is using research that links periodontitis and weak erections to drive public awareness of oral hygiene.

Periodontitis, or gum disease, has been shown more and more to have associations with other inflammatory-type diseases, with erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease among them.

Prevention being better than cure, brushing teeth in the morning and night, and using floss in the evening, could potentially stave off a lifetime of greater medical woes, said Professor Londi Shangase, head of Wits University department of oral medicine and periodontology.

Speaking at a hotel in Durban North yesterday, Shangase said gum disease had to be seen as a major risk factor for a host of deadly conditions and other lifestyle problems.

“People think the mouth is isolated from the rest of the body, but the mouth is much more important than previously thought.”

She said the World Health Organisation has estimated 23,6 million people will die each year from cardiovascular diseases by 2030, most in low- to middle-income countries. Right now, in South Africa, nearly 15% of deaths are attributed to heart ailments.

And when it comes to erections, Shangase said up to 52% of men aged 40 and older suffer some form of dysfunction.

She explained blocked arteries, either from plaque build-up (not the dental variety) or clots, starve the heart of oxygenated blood, potentially leading to cardio distress. Clots also lead to strokes.

Bacteria in the mouth can enter the blood stream through diseased gums and are believed to cause reactions in the body that may accelerate the blocking of arteries, a process called atherosclerosis.

Shangase said a penis also relies on blood pumping through the organ to become erect and if the arteries become choked, erections are less likely to occur.

“The mouth, without a doubt, forms an integral part of the body and it is impossible to maintain good systemic or general health in the presence of oral disease.”

Rhonin Naidoo, a committee member of the KZN branch of Sada, said this new approach to dentistry was not reflected in modern medical schemes.

He said in the past, dentistry was often “ringfenced” from other benefits.

“If you look at the last 10 years, the medical aid pie has been shrinking more and more to the detriment of dentistry,” he added.

• brett.horner@ witness.co.za

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