Published on August 30, 2021 by Kristina Willis
Dentists have long been concerned about the effects of cannabis on oral health. Understanding the potential risks becomes even more critical as regions legalize both medical and recreational use. Marijuana is already the most used drug in the world, with more than 3.8% of the population partaking.
According to dental research, cannabis can be detrimental to oral health. Smoking marijuana is particularly harmful and associated with periodontitis, xerostomia, and teeth discoloration. In combination with poor oral hygiene, smoking cannabis can cause short and long-term damage, potentially ruining your teeth.
Fortunately, there are ways you can consume cannabis without having to experience the harmful side effects of smoking. For instance, embracing healthy lifestyle choices can help protect your teeth.
Here’s what you need to know about cannabis’s impact on oral health and how you can avoid adverse side effects.
When it comes to oral health, cannabis prompts many of the same concerns as tobacco. Along with periodontal complications, the American Dental Association (ADA) warns that smoking cannabis increases the risk of mouth and neck cancers. Numerous studies have suggested that smoking cannabis may be a potential risk factor for oral cancer, though none have succeeded in proving a direct correlation. One study concluded that it does not significantly increase the risk for oral cancers.
Regarding cannabis use, dentists often struggle to obtain accurate histories from their patients. Lacking full disclosure, they are unable to provide accurate counsel on oral health matters. As a result, opportunities for cannabis education are severely limited. Considering the potential side effects, the impact on dental health can be detrimental and long-lasting.
Though cannabis provides many therapeutic benefits, clinical studies have provided relatively limited insight so far. Many lacked consistency or failed to control for outside variables. Separating cause from effect has been particularly challenging. Furthermore, marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I substance has restricted resources and results. Outside of smoking, the quality of available studies regarding cannabis and oral health are insubstantial. Without better research, we cannot fully understand how cannabis compounds affect periodontics.
Periodontal diseases are caused by mouth bacteria that infect the tissue surrounding teeth, inducing inflammation and sometimes bleeding. A severe form called periodontitis can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth and cause significant bone loss. In some cases, teeth may become loose or fall out entirely.
According to the ADA, higher rates of periodontitis have been observed among frequent cannabis users compared to non-users. Over 11% of the global population suffers from periodontitis, and 47.2% of adults 30 and over have some form of periodontal disease.
“Even controlling for other factors linked to gum disease, such as cigarette smoking, frequent recreational cannabis smokers are twice as likely as non-frequent users to have signs of periodontal disease.”—Jaffer Shariff, Columbia University School of Dental Medicine
“Even controlling for other factors linked to gum disease, such as cigarette smoking, frequent recreational cannabis smokers are twice as likely as non-frequent users to have signs of periodontal disease.”
A systemic review of available research conducted in 2021 found that numerous studies support that cannabis smokers disproportionately suffer from periodontitis. One study found that cannabis users were 12% more likely to have a periodontal disease. Another suggested that the risk of periodontal disease might be dose-dependent.
No matter the source or substance in question, regular smoke inhalation can cause teeth discoloration. Anecdotal reports suggest that marijuana discoloration is noticeable but not quite as pronounced as tobacco. Fortunately, discoloration is one of the least concerning side effects of smoking, as fluoride toothpastes and whitening procedures can address it.
One of the more common side effects of smoking cannabis is xerostomia, colloquially known as “dry mouth.” Researchers hypothesize that salivary glands contain cannabinoid receptors. More specifically, CB1 and CB2 receptors. Antagonists of these receptors inhibit salivary secretion, leading to dry mouth.
If you think that dry mouth is no big deal, think again. Saliva is essential for balancing your mouth’s PH levels and maintaining a healthy oral ecosystem. It discourages bacterial growth, neutralizes acids that cause tooth decay, and helps wash away stubborn food particles. Moreover, it plays a crucial role in allowing you to taste, chew, swallow, and speak.
The answer to this question depends entirely on your individual situation. With good oral hygiene practices, you may be able to avoid harmful cannabis side effects. By starting off on the right foot and remaining diligent when taking care of your teeth, you may be able to keep your oral health on track.
If your teeth have already been compromised, simply changing your oral routine might not be enough to offset the existing damage. Instead, you may have to consider quitting altogether or explore smoking alternatives. For instance, medical cannabis comes in many forms, including oils, tinctures, edibles, and creams.
Though smoking is clearly the most detrimental delivery method, other types of consumption may also negatively impact oral health. For example, the effects of cannabis extracts on microflora and saliva may be systemic rather than localized.
At a minimum, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. To help strengthen teeth and treat discoloration, try using fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash.
Dehydration reduces saliva production and can worsen the effects of xerostomia. Drinking plenty of water also helps keep your teeth clean by diluting acids, preventing plaque, and washing away debris.
As an appetite stimulant, cannabis users are often drawn to sugary or starchy snack foods and drinks that prompt plaque bacteria to release acids that destroy tooth enamel. Eating healthy is a great way to promote good oral health.
When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do for your oral health is to be open and honest when talking to your dentist. Telling them about your cannabis use allows them to advise you properly and draw attention to potentially harmful habits.
Smokers should strongly consider alternative methods of consuming cannabis to avoid some of the more detrimental side effects of smoking. If your teeth are in bad shape, you should be prepared to quit or reduce your cannabis use at your dentist’s suggestion.
Ask your dentist to keep an eye on your condition. At the very least, you should receive a dental checkup every six months. Most importantly, make healthy lifestyle choices and remain diligent with brushing and flossing. With a bit of good fortune, you should be able to continue using cannabis while minimizing the effect it has on your oral health.