There are only two states in the US that allow the recreational sale of marijuana–Washington and Colorado–and recently a Colorado news station raised the alarm that marijuana-smoking patients may see more cavities. This wasn’t a factor most people considered when voting on the legalization of the drug. But just how big a problem is this?
It’s important to note that for the most part this news piece is just your typical fluff piece produced by local media. What evidence do we have from it? Basically the testimony of one dental hygienist, and the editorial conclusion that “Patients are experiencing tooth decay, expensive dentist bills and the pain of dealing with it all.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t really tell us whether smoking marijuana really leads to increased tooth decay.
There are a lot of potential ways that marijuana use could lead to more cavities. First, it leads to reduced saliva production (“cotton mouth”) and may lead to more consumption of sugary snacks (“the munchies”). With less protective saliva and more food consumption, we’d expect to see more decay. And since it’s likely that marijuana users might be more lax in their oral hygiene, the effect might increase even more.
However, a Swiss study showed little connection between marijuana use and tooth decay. The study did show that marijuana users were more likely to have untreated dental decay, but when you added in both teeth with fillings and untreated decay, the difference vanished. This was even though cannabis users brushed their teeth less often, visited the dentist for tooth cleanings less often, and were more likely to drink sugary beverages. If anything, it seems that marijuana use might actually have a protective effect for your teeth, although this study was not designed to make that conclusion.
In gum disease, though, we see a clearer connection between marijuana use and health problems. A population study in New Zealand found that the most frequent marijuana smokers were three times more likely to experience serious gum disease than those who didn’t smoke. This is comparable to the level of risk experienced by smokers of cigarettes. It’s also worth noting that a re-evaluation of the data was recently published, showing a much lower increase in risk. The new evaluation said that periodontal risk was only increased in patients over the age of 32, and then it was only increased by about 23%.
It’s likely that patients with periodontal disease should still be counseled against smoking marijuana, and especially people getting dental implants should avoid smoking while their implants are healing.
Although science doesn’t have strong conclusions about the oral health risks related to marijuana smoking, it does seem to indicate that there are some risks that you should try to guard against.
If you find yourself experiencing dry mouth after smoking, make sure you’re properly hydrated, and, if necessary, use artificial saliva. Try to cut down on snacking after smoking.
And, of course, keep to your oral hygiene routine and make your regular dental appointments.
If you are looking for a dentist in Spokane or Spokane Valley to help maintain your oral health, whether you smoke or not, please call 509-368-7788 for an appointment at Collins Dentistry & Aesthetics.
Or office in Spokane is located at:
3151 E. 28th Ave.
Spokane, WA 99223
Office phone # 509-368-7788