Is Medical Marijuana Harmful to Dental Health?
Now that marijuana is legal in Canada, it’s important to look objectively at the effects it has on your body. Here at Dawson Dental, our primary concern is how medical marijuana impacts your teeth. Is medical marijuana harmful to dental health? Or is it really as innocent as its advocates say it is?
The effects of smoking cigarettes are well documented, and they don’t paint a pretty picture. Tooth loss, gum disease, oral cancer; the list goes on. Marijuana is widely considered to be a safer substance to smoke, but combusting anything and smoking it makes your mouth the middleman. Smoking marijuana certainly has its own side effects that you should be aware of if you’re planning on using it.
Seasoned smokers know the condition well: your mouth gets dry and it can be hard to talk, chew and swallow. This condition is caused by the cannabinoids found in marijuana. We have a large number of cannabinoid receptors in our brains and smoking marijuana causes us to take in cannabinoids.
Our natural cannabinoids are supposed to bind to the receptors in our brains, but we fill those receptors up when we smoke. Thus, our brain can’t get signals from the body, and certain functions stop. One of these functions is saliva production, resulting in dry-mouth or ‘cotton-mouth.
You can alleviate dry mouth simply by sipping fluids, preferably through a straw. Avoid anything caffeinated, and don’t smoke any tobacco while you’re trying to restore your mouth’s wetness. Some people are especially prone to cotton-mouth, while some people are rarely affected. People who experience cotton-mouth frequently should ensure they have a glass of water on hand while smoking.
There is so much that can stain your teeth: red wine, coffee, blueberries, chocolate. Now you can add cannabis to the list. Smoking anything means you’re inhaling smoke, and this will inevitably stain your teeth. If you’re noticing your teeth yellowing a few shades darker, consider over-the-counter whitening treatments, or clinical whitening if you want more dramatic results.
Yellow teeth can be a major insecurity. It’s hard to smile freely when you know your teeth are a dingy shade of yellow. Not being able to smile when you want can damage your self-confidence over time. If you must smoke, make sure you keep up good oral hygiene. A twice-daily regimen of brushing, flossing, and mouthwash, along with annual dentist appointments is recommended.
One of the secondary reasons for yellow teeth amongst pot smokers is ‘the munchies’. Very few people munch on cucumbers and carrot sticks after they smoke – they go for the sugary stuff! Candy, pizza, and packaged junk food are terrible for your teeth. This makes a diligent dental routine especially important.
Gum disease is one of the major concerns of smoking marijuana. A study from the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine shows that regular smokers—once a month or more—are twice as likely as the general population to have dental issues. There was a strong connection between the frequency of marijuana smoking and the extent of the gum disease observed.
It’s hard to say for certain what’s causing gum disease in smokers. It could be the bacterial flora of the mouth is disrupted, activation of the body’s inflammatory response, a stressed immune system, or the heat from the smoke. Individual differences between people mean that there can be different triggers for gum disease for everyone. Whatever the case may be, data suggest a strong link between smoking marijuana and gum disease.
Marijuana is often touted as having anti-cancer properties, but some experts warn it could actually promote oral cancer. Long-term cannabis smoking changes the lining of the mouth, resulting in chronic inflammation. This condition is called ‘cannabis stomatitis’, and is a risk factor for oral cancers.
Fans of cannabis are avid promoters of all the good cannabis can do. Cannabis can be used to help people move away from other narcotics, can stimulate hunger and reduce pain in chemotherapy patients, alleviate epilepsy in young children and provide a relaxing way to bond with friends. However, it’s important to look at both sides of the coin. Cannabis has both positive effects and negative effects, and the more Canadians are educated about both, the better informed they are when making decisions about their health.
Medical marijuana has several oral health risks, so good judgment and a consistent dental routine are necessary to prevent long-term issues. Canada is one of the first countries in the world to legalize marijuana, so it’s likely that there will be much more research conducted in Canadian institutions. In the meantime, do your best to inform yourself and your family of just exactly what weed can do to your pearly whites.