Recreational cannabis (marijuana) consumption has been legal in Washington State since 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.
As the legalization of marijuana is still relatively recent and is only occurring on a state-by-state basis, 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, high tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use, poor oral hygiene practices, and increased snacking on high sugar/carbohydrate foods. Smoking (of any kind) can also lead to dry mouth (xerostomia), which significantly increases the risk for cavities.
Marijuana use has also been associated with an increased risk of periodontal disease. 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. They also found 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. It is thought that some of the negative effects may be the result of smoking 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 mouth rinse that contains 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