How Does Cannabis Impact Oral Health?

With more and more countries around the globe legalizing cannabis, there is a growing need for scientific studies designed to research the physical impact on the human body. This includes the oral health effects of the plant. Even countries that haven’t fully legalized marijuana report higher cannabis prevalence than ever before. What we know at the moment is that marijuana users tend to get sick more often than those who aren’t using, but what about the impact of marijuana on oral health? 

It’s important to inform your dentist if you were using cannabis in any form prior to your appointment. That way, she or he can give you more information on how to properly take care of your teeth, gums, and overall health of your mouth. Here are some of the problems that marijuana users have reported, regardless of if they were using it in a medical capacity or more recreationally.

Xerostomia (Also Known As ’Cotton Mouth’)

It’s common that cannabis users report having ’cotton mouth’ after smoking marijuana. This is a symptom also known as xerostomia and is caused by under-functioning salivary glands. THC, the most well-known psychoactive compound found in cannabis causes this binding to endocannabinoid receptors in our brain and sends signals to decrease the production of saliva.

Apart from the fact that xerostomia is something that can prove frustrating to marijuana users, it’s also bad for the mouth. The lack of saliva in our mouth can lead to many problems and can cause infections like thrush and candida, as well as tooth decay. 

Bad Breath (Halitosis) and the So-Called ’Munchies’

A lack of saliva also causes bad breath (also known as halitosis). If bad breath isn’t of particular concern, it could still prove important to understand how marijuana affects the appetite hormone, known as leptin. Regular cannabis smokers are all very well acquainted with this phenomenon. 

Because their appetite is increased due to marijuana’s effect on hormone leptin, they tend to have the so-called ’munchies’ whenever they use the drug. This can lead to many dental issues: lowered saliva production and a decrease in saliva pH, combined with a higher intake of junk/sugary foods are associated with higher risk of cavities.

Gingival Plaque Deposits/Staining

It’s not just that xerostomia, cavities, bad breath, or infections such as thrush and candida which often occur in marijuana users whose oral hygiene is poor – it’s also been reported that people who regularly smoke cannabis have troubles with plaque build-up and staining. All these things are the reason why it’s crucial to perform regular check-ups and opt for dental bonding, in case your teeth are (or become) badly shaped, damaged, discolored, or lose their natural spark. 

Any kind of smoking causes your teeth to become stained, and marijuana is definitely not an exception. Even though cannabis smokers generally smoke less than tobacco users, they still tend to hold the smoke longer in their mouths and lungs. Another good way to deal with plaque deposits and/or staining is to avoid the consumption of acidic drinks and food.

Oral Edema/Erythema

Smoking marijuana also irritates oral tissues and can cause oral edema. This is the medical term for swelling, so you should definitely pay attention to this for various different (medical) reasons. First off, both tobacco and marijuana are known to carry carcinogens when consumed via combustion. This means that the whole body gets affected, and not just your mouth. What happens when there’s a swelling in the mouth is that small blood vessels leak fluid into oral tissues. The carcinogens that we’ve mentioned trigger the body’s reaction and lead to inflammation.

Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and use a fluoride toothpaste to prevent this from happening.

Developing or Worsening Periodontitis

Another oral effect of cannabis is developing or worsening periodontitis. Periodontitis is a serious gum infection, that mustn’t be left untreated. When the infection occurs, it damages the soft tissue of the mouth and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. 

Those who smoke cannabis regularly and face this issue should know that periodontitis is largely preventable, even though it’s common. Periodontitis mostly occurs due to poor oral hygiene, so you should definitely get a dental check-up if you notice that you’re developing an infection, regardless of the fact that you’re brushing and flossing daily.

The Bottom Line

Reports from all over the world tell us that there are more and more cannabis users each year. And it’s not just that the countries who have fully legalized marijuana report this trend, but also the ones who are still ‘in the process’. With cannabis’ increasing popularity, it’s Vital to understand just how cannabis affects our entire body, including oral health.