Last November the voters of Michigan approved the recreational use of marijuana. Prior to that it had been legal for medicinal purposes. While many people have smoked or otherwise ingested marijuana for decades, many more will be trying and using it now that it is legal for adults over the age of 21. How does marijuana affect oral health? We want our patients to know so they can protect their teeth and gums.
Different Types of Marijuana
The most common way people ingest marijuana is of course to smoke it in cigarette form. It can also be put in water or a pipe and smoked, and its resins or oil forms (hashish and hash oil) can be ingested or inhaled. All of these ways will affect your mouth environment differently. Smoking it is the worst for oral health, however.
Smoking marijuana can cause dry mouth because it dries up the saliva in your mouth. Dry mouth often leads to other oral health issues, including bad breath and yeast infections. Gum disease and tooth decay are also more likely to occur when your mouth is dry. It’s much harder to chew your food and swallow, and it feels uncomfortable as well. Marijuana does contain many of the same pathogens as tobacco, and smoking it will result in some of the same health issues. This includes respiratory problems including coughing and difficulty breathing.
In all of its forms, the main psychotropic agent in marijuana is THC. THC stimulates the appetite, which is why the stereotype of the pot smoker with the munchies exists. Eating snacks isn’t bad in and of itself, but the kinds of snacks people eat can cause problems, particularly if they’re eating lots of sugary foods and not brushing regularly. Regular cannabis users do have higher rates of cavities, particularly for teeth that aren’t difficult to reach with a toothbrush.
One problem with trying to determine how using marijuana affects oral health is that few people use just marijuana by itself. They are much more likely to both drink alcohol and smoke marijuana or smoke both tobacco and marijuana or use other drugs as well. To further complicate things, they may not visit the dentist very often, so they do not have the benefit of regular professional dental care. As with all our patients, we dentists do give marijuana users advice on how to better care for their teeth and gums. That advice would be to:
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- Brush your teeth daily and floss regularly.
- Choose nutritious snacks and drinks over cookies and candy bars or sugary drinks.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
- Consider rinsing with topical fluorides to protect your teeth.
- Monitor for dry mouth.
You should also know that while marijuana is now legal in Michigan for adults over 21 years of age, you can’t sell it or smoke it anywhere other than in private residences. So don’t smoke it in the park or any other public place unless you want other problems besides dry mouth and cavities.
If you have any questions about smoking or ingesting marijuana and how it affects your teeth and gums, please bring it up to your dental hygienist during your next dentist visit. We dentists and hygienists want to give our patients good guidance for how to take care of their teeth so they will last a lifetime. Communication is key to making that happen!