Marijuana has now been legal in Washington state for 4 ½ years. What has it changed about our oral health? That’s a question that only the dental professionals are probably asking at this point, but one that all cannabis users would benefit from. With more states following suit in legalization, it’s time for a national conversation about marijuana use’s effects on health. While many studies have examined its impact on respiratory health, memory, motor skills, and more, oral health has received less of a focus. But for those who are smoking marijuana as opposed to ingesting it, it’s important to consider the potential impact on the mouth.

Marijuana and Gum Disease Risk

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that young marijuana smokers with heavy cannabis use are potentially at a higher risk of periodontal disease. Performed by New Zealand researchers, the study completed the first long-term analysis of cannabis smoking and periodontal disease. It tracked cannabis use in a group of young adults and found an association with early onset periodontitis (before the age of 32). Regular marijuana smokers were 3x more likely to have gum disease than non-smokers.

What Else Do We Know About Cannabis and Oral Health Problems?

Marijuana contains THC, tetrahydro-cannabinol, which is what produces a high. There are positive medical effects associated with this high, mainly antiemetic (reducing nausea and vomiting). It also reduces intraocular pressure for glaucoma patients. But there are negative health impacts as well.

In addition to documented links to respiratory problems, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, tachycardia, panic and paranoia, and short-term memory impairment, there are potential associations between marijuana and oral problems. Some of these include:

  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)

  • Increased cavities
  • Irritation of oral tissues
  • More frequent illnesses / compromised immune system
  • Poor oral hygiene and increased consumption of cavity-causing foods/drinks

Healthcare professionals also worry about a link to oral cancer, as the high temperature involved with marijuana smoking can damage oral cells. But research has not yet yielded a definite association.

Concerned about your oral health as a cannabis user? Let us know your questions at your next exam. There’s no judgement here, only help! Schedule your appointment today.

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Dr. Kim Okamura

I'm Dr. Kim Okamura and this blog is a product of my love of dentistry. I dedicate it to all the patients I have served so that they may better understand my craft. The information here will give you and others the power to maintain and protect one of your most priceless gifts ... your SMILE.