A recent study showed used 1,000 New Zealanders who’d consumed cannabis for more than 20 years. What was found was surprising. This was especially true when it came to the mouths of the participants.
While cannabis seemed to have no adverse effects on physical health indicators like lung function, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index, researchers found that it did have a significant impact on dental health.
Here are some of the issues that were found in the study.
Increased Risks of Periodontal Disease
Researchers were careful to account for other factors like tobacco smoking, alcohol abuse, and poor hygiene in their analysis. Regardless of those factors, they noticed a significant oral health effect from cannabis, especially an increased risk of periodontal disease.
Taking this study into account, the American Dental Association’s (ADA) official position is that cannabis smoking “is associated with periodontal complications, and leukoplakia as well as increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.” Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches or spots to appear on the inside of the mouth.
As a result, the dental community is ramping up its educational efforts about the impact of cannabis on the mouth. Meanwhile, the cannabis industry is developing new products that could lessen the adverse effect on oral health.
Your Mouth is an Ecosystem
The mouth is a complex ecosystem, made up of many interconnected parts. Your mouth requires a variety of organic materials to keep in balance. Your saliva is one of the most vital components. It’s responsible for a bunch of important functions, like breaking down food and keeping the mouth a moist environment. Most importantly to cannabis users, saliva clears and breaks down bacteria and other substances from the teeth and gums, preventing cavities.
When one smokes cannabis, saliva production decreases. Most cannabis smokers will recognize this as the familiar sensation of dry or “cotton” mouth.
Dry Mouth Isn’t Just Annoying
Excessive dry mouth is the biggest cannabis-related issue for oral health because it contains antibacterial compounds. A mouth without saliva creates an ideal environment for bacteria to build up, which typically causes cavities and fungal infections. If this is left for too long, severe infections in the structures around the teeth, aka periodontal disease, can develop. This can lead to tooth and bone loss.
Gums Don’t Like Smoke
Cannabis use has also been linked to gingivitis, and spotting on the gums, though it is unclear whether associated irritants, such as orally inhaled smoke, rather than cannabis itself, may be the contributing causes.
When all is said, the act of smoking anything is bad for your teeth. Smoking can stain teeth and further dry out the mouth. Because the science is still new, and because tobacco use and cannabis use are often correlated, it’s hard to know whether cannabis or tobacco, in particular, is worse for the teeth.
Talk To Your Dentist
Experts encourage cannabis smokers to talk with their dentists, and be honest about their cannabis use. Many patients may be wary of divulging use for fear of being judged. And some dentists may be unwilling to have the conversation for fear of legal ramifications. So this sometimes can be a touchy subject.