Despite the hotness of the Marbolo Man (and, let’s face it, Joe Camel), smoking cigarettes impacts the teeth. Tobacco and oral health aren’t exactly best friends. In fact, per the Oral Health Foundation, lighting up a Benson and Hedges or a Virginia Slim (or any other brand) causes gum disease, tooth staining, tooth loss, and predisposes a person to cancerous tumors of the mouth.
The fact that cigarettes aren’t good for canines and incisors isn’t breaking news: we’ve known this for some time. But what about smoking cannabis? Is that dangerous as well? Or is it the tobacco and nicotine that provide the danger and not the actual act of smoking itself?
Scientists were wondering the same thing, so they did what scientists do – experimented. According to Jama Psychiatry, Arizona State University researchers conducted a study to examine the effects of cannabis among a group of people who had consumed it for two decades.
The Facts Behind Cannabis and Your Teeth
They followed 1,037 New Zealanders ranging in ages from 18-38 for twenty years and measured changes in dental health (as well as body weight, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, lung function, and blood pressure). What they found was the cannabis didn’t really influence physical health (as we’ve discussed in earlier articles, many of the health benefits of cannabis are found in older crowds). There was an exception, however – people who used cannabis had an increased risk of developing gum disease and poorer periodontal health, overall.
When compared to tobacco, the effects of cannabis weren’t as drastic – people who smoked cigarettes had worse periodontal health (and worse health altogether). Still, it’s natural that tobacco would impact teeth – it’s clearly bad for us. But researchers were stumped as to why the green ganja was interfering with the pearly whites.
Part of the explanation came down to dental regimes: people who used cannabis heavily didn’t get a gold star in the brushing department
They brushed less regularly and flossed less often. But even those who practiced good dental hygiene were affected.
The Effects of Cottonmouth
According to Livestrong, one of the reasons for this decline lies in marijuana’s most annoying side effect: dry mouth. Dry mouth happens with many strains and is a result of the cannabinoids in weed interfering with the production of saliva.
Without saliva, the body can’t wash away bacteria and food from the gums and teeth. This promotes tooth decay
In fact, dry mouth is one of the reasons people who use meth have such damaging oral issues. Per PBS, meth causes the salivary glands to dry out, ultimately allowing the acids in the mouth to eat away at enamel. But meth users tend to add to the damage by grinding their teeth obsessively, consuming foods high in sugar or drinks high in sugar, and forgetting to brush for long periods of time. Meth is infamous for impacting dental health, whereas cannabis’s impact is nowhere as drastic.
Still, research suggests a potential link to bad teeth and it doesn’t just have to do with cavities. Gum disease may also be a factor – this disease tends to manifest when oral bacteria runs rampant in the mouth, resulting in inflamed gum tissue and inflamed bone. Gum disease can be treated and controlled, but without attention, it worsens until tooth loss occurs. Dry mouth, because it inhibits the removal of bacteria as mentioned above, likely contributes to gum disease too.
Whether or not people who smoke pot are at risk for oral cancer is another topic of debate. Cannabis isn’t dangerous in the sense that tobacco is, but smoking isn’t healthy, no matter what you’re smoking – smoke an orange rind and it probably won’t be great for the body. This is why so many people suggest vaporizing over pipes or joints. Until more is known about the effects of smoking weed, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
A study published in 2014 did tie oral cancer to marijuana smokers. The American Association for Cancer Research found that the high temperature of marijuana smoke irritates oral tissues and triggers changes. These changes can repair themselves or they can lead to precancerous lesions, lesions that may become cancerous if they mutate further.
How to Avoid Problems
Whether you smoke pot or not, the best way to avoid problems with your teeth is to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly (at the very least once a year even though you pretend you go every six months). Good dental hygiene can help cannabis users dodge complications. And regular visits can address minor issues instead of allowing those issues to turn into major ones.
You can also help yourself by changing the way you smoke – put down the pipe and pick up the vape. And stay hydrated by drinking water each time you inhale – if your mouth won’t make saliva, make your own!
Stopping smoking altogether – and getting your fix through edibles, patches, or tinctures – can save your teeth too. That’s unless the edibles are laden with sugar – then they might impact oral health but not because of the weed!
Strain choice is important as well – ask your budtender for strains that don’t have a propensity for dry mouth. Some strains are specifically designed to minimize this side effect while others are so well known for it you may as well skip the blunt and just drink the bucket of sand.
When it comes to dental health, there are lots of things that leave a mark – from your brushing habits to what you eat to if you raid your child’s Trick-or-Treat bag every Halloween. Even genetics play a role (because they play a role in everything). Cannabis may be a factor too, at least according to research. If another study comes out ten years from now revealing that pot’s not as impactful as predicted, they’ll be no harm done. You might even get fresher breath out of the hysteria.