High Times Can Lead To Low Times In The Dentist Chair

Posted on: 14 December 2015

With the relaxing of marijuana laws in the United States, both medicinal and recreational, there's been an expected increase of marijuana use. But with that increase in legal use, comes an ability for patients to talk openly with their healthcare providers. And that includes dental care providers. You can talk with your dentist candidly about your marijuana use and how it may be affecting your oral health.  That's a good thing, because marijuana use does negatively affect your dental health, and your dental health affects your general health.

A Bit About Marijuana

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is not new. Its use has been documented for thousands of years. In 1970, marijuana was made illegal in the United States with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. Over the last decade, the trend toward easing restrictions against its use has been gaining momentum, so it's not going away any time soon.

However, today's marijuana is much different than that of the past. According to Narconon, the potency of marijuana is increasing. The active ingredient, THC, has increased from less than 4% in 1983 to 10% in 2008. New strains of the plant and hydroponic growing technologies have led to some marijuana that has THC contents as high as 25%. Although it's unclear at this point whether the strength of the THC directly affects your oral health, it does make marijuana more addictive, and the more often a person uses it does affect their oral health.

Periodontal Disease and Tooth Loss

A recent study of 900 New Zealanders, as written about in Science Daily, found that those who smoked marijuana more than 40 times a year since age 18 were "responsible for more than one-third of the new cases of periodontal disease between ages 26 and 32." Its effects are just as pronounced as the use of tobacco use, which healthcare professionals have known is related to periodontal disease for a long time.

It is thought that the irritants in the cannabis smoke inflame the gums and weaken the immune system. This can lead to infections of the lips and soft tissues of the mouth, periodontal disease, erosion of the bones of the jaw and tooth loss. The loss of the underlying bone makes dental implants to replace the teeth much more difficult if not impossible.

Tooth Decay

Smoking marijuana decreases the amount of saliva, which is an important factor in preventing bad breath and cavities. Smoking also increases a person's appetite for the types of food that are known for causing tooth decay. And as more and more people are consuming edible cannabis instead of or in addition to smoking it, the residue from the sweets and oils that remain on the teeth are a growing factor in decay.

Oral Cancer

Results of a research study reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed that the "incidence of oropharyngeal and oral tongue cancers has increased over the last 20 years, which parallels increased use of marijuana among individuals born after 1950." But because a high percentage of marijuana smokers also use alcohol and tobacco, which are known carcinogens, it's difficult to definitely say pot causes cancer. Further studies are called for, but it's important to know there could be a link.

Oral Hygiene

Because cannabis does affect a person's mental state, smokers may neglect proper oral hygiene. It's important to maintain good dental habits, such as brushing after meals, using a fluoride toothpaste, using a dental rinse and flossing daily.  Keep regular dental checkups and don't be afraid to talk to your dentist about your pot use. He or she can make a point to take x-rays for bone loss, do cancer screenings, and make suggestions to minimize the harmful effects associated with regular pot use.