You are probably already aware that there is growing support for the legalization of marijuana for both general use and medical use in the U.S. and other countries. There already are states that have legalized the possession of marijuana for citizens who are 21 years or older. Regardless of the legislation and continued debate about legalizing marijuana, people have been using marijuana for many years and it has become a topic regularly talked about in recent years. If you already use Marijuana for medical or recreational use or are considering using it, there are several things you need to be aware of in terms of how it affects your oral health.
Research shows there is a relationship between marijuana use and poor oral health. One factor that has been linked to using marijuana is dental caries or cavities. Research shows that if you smoke marijuana regularly that you are at high risk of developing cavities compared to those who don’t use marijuana. This finding suggests oral health problems in terms of dental caries that are related to smoking marijuana can occur as early as adolescence. Smoking marijuana regularly also increases your chances of developing periodontal disease and oral lesions.
There are several causes of these types of oral health problems in marijuana users. The condition of ‘cottonmouth,’ where your mouth becomes extremely dry due to the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on your nervous system leads directly to dental problems. Saliva is needed to wash away food particles and bacteria which helps keep your gums and teeth healthy. Cottonmouth can tooth decay, tooth loss, bad breath, and sores on the gums, tongue and roof of your mouth.
Also, the heat you inhale when smoking marijuana can damage healthy tissue inside your mouth. This makes it more likely that the toxic chemicals found in the smoke will be absorbed by the membranes inside your mouth which normally protect against this. These toxins and bacteria can remain in your mouth for hours or even days leading to periodontal disease, swelling, pain and tooth decay.
Another reason marijuana use puts you at risk for dental problems is related to your appetite. If you have used marijuana you are probably aware of how hungry it makes you feel. You may also be aware that you crave certain types of foods. In fact, marijuana use is likely responsible for the consumption of untold amounts of ding dongs, nachos, pizza and anything deep fried. Cravings result from certain cells in the brain which normally shut off hunger, stimulating hunger instead leading you to feel ravenous, specifically for carbohydrates.
Your cravings for carbohydrates occurs because marijuana mirrors the effects of carbohydrates in the stomach which triggers cellular changes causing you to want to eat more foods high in carbohydrates. This is the reason why you can’t eat just one French fry.
Cravings after marijuana use, however, are far more intense than just hunger related cravings, because marijuana also shuts off the satiation center of the brain. This means that you will have food cravings even if you have just eaten, and the lack of a satiation trigger leads to you likely consuming large amounts of high carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates put you at significant risk of developing dental problems since these foods are high in sugar which adheres to teeth and leads to cavities. Pizza, nachos and other junk made with tomatoes or tomato sauce also create dental problems from the acid which erodes your enamel. Some of the worst foods for your oral health include:
- Soft drinks
- Dried fruit
- Jellies and jams
- White bread
- Potato chips
Other ways that marijuana use may affect your oral health involve your gums. The THC and other irritants in marijuana smoke can cause damage to your gums leading to swelling, infections, gingivitis and whitish grey lesions forming on your gums. These conditions can lead to tooth and bone loss, and an increase or decrease in gum tissue, common symptoms of gum disease. You also are at greater risk of developing opportunistic infections in your mouth which can spread to other areas of your body. In part, this can occur because marijuana inhibits the production of antibodies which mean your immune system can’t fight off infectious agents when you are exposed to bacterial or viral agents. Finally, smoking marijuana can increase your risk of developing oral cancer.
If you smoke marijuana for medical or recreational reasons, there are several strategies that can help treat and/or prevent dental problems. These include:
- Practicing excellent oral hygiene including brushing each time you eat
- Eating healthy foods
- Using mouth wash specifically formulated to increase moisture in your mouth
- Avoiding mouth wash with alcohol
- Decreasing your intake of carbohydrates
- Decreasing your intake of sugar
- Drinking plenty of water
- Avoiding carbonated beverages except for carbonated water
- Having regular dental cleanings and examinations
- Talking to a dental health care provider for tips to ensure better oral health
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Thomson W.M., Poulton R., Broadbent J.M., et al., (2008). Cannabis smoking and periodontal disease among young adults. JAMA, 299:525–531.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2015). Oral Health; Preventing Cavities, Gum Disease, Tooth Loss, and Oral Cancers: At A Glance 2011. Retrieved from https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/11862.
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