Washington state legalized recreational cannabis use in 2012. With the increase in cannabis use since it’s legalization, we are better able to see the effects it has on oral health. As health professionals, we understand the benefits cannabis use can have to treat a variety of ailments, but we also have to educate consumers about the impacts it can have on gum and tooth health.
Although cannabis is still federally illegal many states have legalized its recreational use. With the legalization being so recent, there isn’t a lot of data to determine long term oral health effects. The data is also confounded by a number of associated factors seen in frequent marijuana users including; alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Poor oral hygiene practices and increased snacking on high sugar/carbohydrate foods are also common among marijuana users. Smoking (of any kind) can also lead to dry mouth (xerostomia), which significantly increases the risk for cavities
There is a higher risk of periodontal disease associated with marijuana users. A systematic review published in 2019 that adjusted for the previously mentioned confounding factors found significantly higher rates of periodontal disease in marijuana users over non-users. The findings also indicate that of those cases, there was an increase in the number of pocket depths greater than 4mm, meaning greater attachment loss and worse severity of disease.
There is still ongoing research to determine further and long term effects of cannabis use on oral health. Work is also being done to distinguish between smoking marijuana and other forms of use. Some research is finding that consuming cannabis by smoke inhalation may be causing these negative side effects, rather than the actual cannabis itself. As always we strive to stay up to date and will share information in the future as it is made available, but in the meantime here are some steps you can take to help mitigate the effects of cannabis use:
- Practice good oral hygiene habits at home. Brushing for 2min2x/day with an electric toothbrush, and flossing or using a water flosser daily.
- Use a toothpaste and mouthrinse that contain fluoride. If you have concerns about fluoride, try xylitol as an alternative.
- Stay up to date on dental visits. Keeping up your preventive visits will ensure we catch any emerging disease or cavity early on.
- If you notice dry mouth, speak with your dental provider to learn how you can treat it.
- Ask questions! We know many people still do not feel comfortable discussing their marijuana use, but please be assured we as health care professionals are not here to judge you. We are here to share the knowledge we have gained to improve your oral health!
American Dental Association