Cannabis and Your Oral Health

At this point it’s common knowledge that smoking is not good for your health. While tobacco smoking remains the most prevalent form, smoking cannabis has grown in popularity nationwide.

Reports and research suggest that the use of marijuana and other cannabis products in the United States have almost doubled since 2013, with an estimated 13% of adult Americans now consuming cannabis products, either medically or recreationally, on a regular basis. While a Federal ban remains in effect, many states have enacted legal consumption laws, providing an avenue for individuals to gain more easy access to marijuana and a wide array of cannabis products.

With this rise in consumption, more and more attention is being paid to the health risks that may be involved. Understanding the implications to your oral health of regular use of cannabis is essential.

As more and more states introduce legalized use of cannabis, new and different products are coming to market. While the vast majority of cannabis is smoked, new products are widely available, including edibles, where cannabis is baked or otherwise processed into foods that are consumed, and topical products, creams, oils and ointments that contain THC, the active compound in cannabis.

How does smoking cannabis affect my oral health?

Anytime you introduce a new substance to your teeth and oral cavity there could be implications, especially if smoking is involved. Several studies have reported that chronic use of marijuana likely leads to higher incidences of gum disease, cavities, oral cancer, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.

Health care practitioners generally voice concern about the negative impacts to your oral hygiene when it comes to smoking both marijuana and tobacco products, but by limiting smoking and practicing good oral hygiene techniques it is possible to prevent the more harmful impacts smoking can have on your oral health.

Below are the more common ways that cannabis smoking can negatively affect your teeth and mouth, and tips to limit the impact.

What are some of the more common oral health issues that arise from smoking cannabis?

Research has shown that regular cannabis use, which is defined as using cannabis at least once a month, can result in an increased risk of attachment loss. Attachment loss is the leading indicator of periodontal disease. Many regular cannabis smokers are unaware of the potential damage that can occur to the periodontium. Also, patients with other risk factors for periodontal disease like diabetes will see even more elevated risk with cannabis use.

Another common oral health problem that arises from regular cannabis use is xerostomia, commonly known as cottonmouth. One of the chemical compounds in cannabis has the effect of sending signals to brain receptors to temporarily limit saliva production. Saliva is critical to oral health and hygiene in that it helps prevent cavities and reduces the chances of oral infections. Saliva also plays a critical role in preventing halitosis, or bad breath and in preventing the build-up of plaque on teeth.

The most visible and prevalent risks of smoking cannabis, however, are loss of teeth, yellowed and stained teeth, and gum disease. Smoking can also cause oral edema, signs of which include tenderness and pain on and under your tongue, difficulty swallowing, and pronounced drooling. Smoking cannabis may also case small sores, or cankers, to develop and has been shown to cause bleeding, tender and painful gums.

If you experience any pain or discomfort at any time, it is critical that you consult with your dentist immediately.

What about mouth and neck cancers?

All kinds of smoking, whether tobacco or cannabis, introduces carcinogens into your oral cavity that will greatly affect your teeth and gum health. Burning plant-based materials involves high temperatures that irritate oral tissues and can lead to cellular disruption in some cases. Since many cannabis smokers are also tobacco smokers, it’s difficult to study whether one or the other carries a more significant risk.

One known oral abnormality that can result from regular use is leukoplakia, or cannabis stomatitis. This condition may result in the development of malignant neoplasias and should be closely monitored by your dentist. Cannabis smokers are also at elevated risk of aggressive head and neck cancers, which studies have linked to regular cannabis use, though research into the linkage is still underway and somewhat inconclusive at this point.

How can I help prevent cannabis-related oral health issues?

The best and most effective way to prevent cannabis-related oral health issues is to practice a regular oral hygiene regimen. Brushing twice daily and flossing regularly are critical. Also, regular topical fluoride has been shown to decrease the risks. To combat cottonmouth, many dental professionals recommend chewing sugar-free gum, which has the effect of stimulating saliva production.

And of course, making sure you have your regular cleanings and screenings with your dentist are the best line of defense. Proper professional care will always help you maintain a great smile. Give us a call at Westerville Dental Associates to learn more or schedule an appointment at (614) 756-3664.