The harmful effects of neglecting your oral health span beyond the obvious. Cavities, toothaches and root canals serve as the main motivation to brush twice every day.
What if the harmful effects of taking poor care of your teeth were more severe?
Poor dental hygiene can lead to heart disease, stroke and arthritis. Some even believe there to be a link between oral hygiene and infertility.
To say that good oral hygiene is important would be an understatement.
Can gum disease really cause infertility? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might hope.
What Is Gum Disease?
Gum disease, or periodontitis, is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. Because it’s usually painless, many people don’t even realize they have it. If unaddressed, it can lead to tooth loss and more serious concerns.
Toxins from the bacteria in plaque damages and inflames the gums, causing gingivitis, but when it worsens, the gums and bone that support the teeth are severely damaged, elevating the condition to periodontitis.
How Can Gum Disease Cause Infertility?
Studies have found links between gum disease and overall oral hygiene and fertility. One study found that women with periodontitis took an average of two months longer to conceive than women without.
But time to conception isn’t the only risk. Women with chronic periodontitis have also been linked to a greater likelihood of developing endometriosis.
While the specific nature of the cause-and-effect relationship hasn’t been nailed down, there are several theories. Some researchers believe that the answer lies in the endotoxins released by the periodontitis-causing bacteria, while others attribute it to a reaction between gum disease and pregnancy medications.
Whatever the cause, the data all points to the same piece of advice: Take care of your teeth.
Not Just Women
The impacts of poor oral hygiene on fertility isn’t limited to women. Men’s fertility may suffer, too.
Studies have linked oral health to sperm count. Those with gum disease are more likely to have a subnormal sperm count than those with healthy teeth. These results remain consistent across all age groups.
Men with poor oral health are also more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction. In fact, men with periodontitis are three times more likely to have erectile problems, and 80% of men who suffer from erectile dysfunction have been diagnosed with chronic periodontitis at some point.
It’s believed that because gum disease causes vascular issues, and vascular issues cause problems with erectile functions, there is an indirect relationship.
Oral Health During Pregnancy
Don’t neglect your oral health after conceiving. Some research has found a link between poor dental hygiene and miscarriage.
Gum disease may also be associated with miscarriage and premature birth. Forgetting to brush your teeth once in a while won’t make a difference, but severe or lingering oral infections can wreak havoc if unaddressed.
Baby’s dental health hinges on that of Mom, too. Expectant mothers with poor oral hygiene can pass it along to their babies, along with other potential risks:
- Low birth weight
- Perinatal mortality
- Growth retardation of the fetus
The relationship between oral health and fertility goes both ways. Women undergoing infertility treatment could be more susceptible to developing gum disease and related oral health issues.
During infertility treatment, women often take drugs that increase levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body — good news for an aspiring mom, bad news for your gums.
With more progesterone and estrogen, there is an increased blood flow in the gums, causing sensitivity. The gums then overcompensate for plaque, bacteria and other conditions in the mouth. This results in swelling, inflammation, bleeding of the gums, bone loss around the teeth and tooth loss, potentially leading to periodontitis.
The data behind the causation of infertility due to poor oral health is still inconclusive, but it’s safe to say that good oral hygiene and regular teeth cleanings can help.