Research shows that there are far worse vices than cannabis use. Across the spectrum, alcohol use does far more psychological and physical damage than smoking weed. However, there is one rather major caveat: cannabis may damage your teeth.
There are numerous studies on cannabis use and dental health. One of the more notable is a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2016. It measured the health of 1,000 New Zealanders who had consumed cannabis for more than 20 years.
What researchers found surprised them. Marijuana didn’t seem to have any adverse effects on physical health functions like blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and lung function. However, it had a significant impact on their teeth and gums.
So, just how detrimental is cannabis to your teeth? For years we’ve known that tobacco damages the gums and teeth, leading to more harmful health issues. In this article, we will examine how cannabis can damage your teeth.
Smoking Cannabis vs. Smoking Tobacco
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), smoking cannabis could cause many periodontal complications. The report published on the ADA website states that smoking marijuana can cause similar periodontal health defects to tobacco smokers.
The report notes that chronic smoking of marijuana results in similar respiratory pathologies as tobacco smoking. This is because, in both cases, you are bringing smoke into your mouth. In other words, some effects aren’t necessarily cannabis-related. Merely the act of smoking is responsible.
Experts have linked cannabis use to gingivitis, spots on the gums, and oral mucosa inflammation.
The gums do not like smoke. Experts have linked cannabis use to gingivitis, spots on the gums, and oral mucosa inflammation. However, according to the ADA, it’s unclear whether irritants like orally inhaled smoke, rather than cannabis itself, are a contributing cause.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, smoking anything is bad for the teeth. Smoking may stain the teeth and further dry out the mouth. However, the science is new, and people often use cannabis and tobacco together. Therefore, it’s not easy to know whether tobacco or cannabis is worse for the teeth.
How Cannabis Use May Affect Your Teeth
Smoking is the cause of certain side effects by itself. However, cannabis could cause dental problems through the systemic effects it has on the body.
Depending on the potency level of the cannabis you use, it could affect your oral health differently. Let’s discuss some of the main concerns.
We often associate dry mouth with cannabis due to the effects it has on the cholinergic system. The cholinergic system is part of the central nervous system (CNS), and THC affects it dramatically.
Smoking pot can cause the salivary glands to produce less saliva than necessary for maintaining a moist and healthy mouth. A study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine in 2006 discovered the reason.
The THC in cannabis mimics anandamide, one of our body’s natural endocannabinoids. Anandamide binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the mouth’s submandibular gland. This process decreases the production of saliva.
Saliva acts to limit bacterial growth and neutralize acids. When you experience dry mouth, the reduced saliva causes the mouth to “freak out.”
The dry mouth effect results in an increased risk of gum disease, cavities, and inflammation of the mouth and lips. Overgrowth of the gums is also a possibility.
Cannabis users are very familiar with the effects of getting high. One of the main compounds found in cannabis, THC, acts as an appetite stimulant. Yes, most of us have heard all about the phenomenon that is “the munchies.” Consuming weed increases your desire to snack.
It seems that the foods of choice are cariogenic. This means they elevate the risk of cavities. Allowing fatty and sugary foods to remain on the teeth for long periods may cause problems that require dentists’ expertise.
Damage to Tooth Enamel
The mouth-drying effects of smoke can indirectly damage tooth enamel. However, the combustion from smoke has other directly negative effects. Firstly, the smoke will stain the enamel of the teeth. Secondly, the smoke itself has a chemistry that fuses with the water in the mouth. This combination forms acids that contribute to demineralization.
The Side Effects of Smoking Cannabis on Oral Health
A comprehensive 2005 review from the Australian Dental Journal reported that cannabis users generally have poorer overall oral health than non-users. Some of the problems included an increased risk of:
- Periodontal disease
- Tooth decay
- Oral infections
- Unhealthy gums
- Higher plaque scores
This study also discussed a condition unique to pot smokers known as “cannabis stomatitis.” It’s a condition in which the thin lining of cells around the mouth changes. This process can lead to small, chronic lesions in the tissues. This increases the risk of oral cancer. However, it’s also important to note the study concluded that current knowledge on how cannabis affects periodontal health is inadequate.
Cannabis users generally have poorer overall oral health than non-users.
A more recent study, published in the Journal of Periodontology in 2017, examined data from nearly 2,000 dental patients who the authors asked about cannabis use. They corrected the data for alcohol use, age, and tobacco use.
The study examined tooth decay and probing depth (an indicator of periodontal disease). The researchers found that both were significantly higher among regular users than non-users. The authors did not propose a mechanism in the study. Multivariate analysis ruled out many lifestyle-related factors. However, it’s difficult to imply causation based on the methods of the study.
What Can You Do to Limit Health Concerns?
Research regarding cannabis and the health of your teeth is far from conclusive. However, there’s enough evidence to indicate that it’s wise to exercise caution. Here are a few ways to protect your oral health while still enjoying the benefits of cannabis use.
- Good Oral Health Routines: Stay hydrated, brush and floss more often, and use a heavily fluoridated toothpaste to protect against decay. Try an antimicrobial mouth rinse to kill excess bacteria in the mouth and combat dry mouth.
- Try Chewing Gum: Research suggests that chewing sugar-free gum is potentially beneficial to the mouth. The act of chewing promotes good oral health. It also stimulates the salivary glands, cleans the teeth, and fights against dry mouth.
- Antimicrobial Cannabinoids: The oral cavity is full of potential sources of infection. Certain cannabinoids, in particular, like CBD and CBG, are promising antimicrobial compounds.
- Don’t Smoke It: You also have the option of using cannabis oil or edibles, which may slightly reduce the damage to your teeth. However, the impact of THC can still cause oral health issues.
- Talk to Your Dentist About Your Cannabis Use: Experts encourage cannabis users to talk to their dentists about it. Even if you live in a state where marijuana is still illegal, your dentist must know the additional health risks and take the necessary precautions.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis and Oral Health
Research is still limited. However, studies show that, on average, cannabis users tend to suffer from a higher risk of dental complications and oral infection. Smoking is the primary concern for the detrimental effects that cannabis use has on the teeth. However, other methods may also cause oral damage.
Regular cannabis users concerned about their teeth should seek advice from their dental care provider.