If you’ve ever done a Google search for a “dentist near me,” you probably understand the importance of brushing and flossing daily, and why you need to schedule regular dental exams and cleanings.
When protecting our oral health, we often focus on what we know harms the health of our teeth and gums, but forget about the hidden dangers that lurk behind other habits. Typically, someone who brushes and flosses rigorously each day to protect the health of their teeth may not think twice before drinking their second or third can of soda in a day. It’s the hidden ways we harm our oral health that often take a bigger toll than those habits we know to keep an eye on.
Smoking cannabis is another habit many patients in Oregon engage in that they may not realize could present a risk to their oral health, according to a new study.
Researchers from Duke University measured the health of 1,000 New Zealand participants who’d consumed cannabis for more than 20 years. While cannabis use seemed to have no adverse effects on various physical factors, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and lung function, researchers discovered that regular cannabis use did have a significant impact on the participant’s oral health.
An Increased Risk of Gum Disease
Even after accounting for various risk factors like tobacco use, poor oral hygiene, and alcohol consumption, researchers still noted a significant impact on the oral health of participants, especially an increased risk of gum disease.
Taking this and other studies into account, the American Dental Association has adopted an official position on cannabis smoking that states the habit “is associated with periodontal complications, xerostomia, and leukoplakia, as well as an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.”
Xerostomia is the technical term for chronic dry mouth, while leukoplakia is a condition that results in the development of white patches in the interior of the mouth.
As a result of further research into cannabis’ impact on our oral health, the dental community at large feels like improved patient education is needed so that the risks are more clearly understood.
Our Oral Ecosystem
The human mouth is a complex and constantly shifting ecosystem. Like any healthy ecosystem, our oral health is comprised of a variety of interconnected parts that require organic materials to stay in balance. Saliva ranks as one of the most important of those organic materials.
Saliva plays a number of valuable roles, everything from helping to breakdown food to maintaining a moist environment. Most significantly for cannabis users, saliva breaks down and removes bacteria from the surface of our teeth and gums.
As a result of smoking cannabis, research has found that saliva production actually decreases. Anyone who’s smoked cannabis knows the familiar dry mouth sensation that frequently occurs from getting high.
Scientifically, this effect occurs as a result of THC mimicking one of the body’s natural endocannabinoids, known as anandamide, which binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the mouth’s submandibular gland to decrease saliva production. So by smoking TCH, it signals those receptors in the mouth to decrease saliva production, resulting in dry mouth.
The Dangers of Dry Mouth
Frequent bouts of dry mouth are a cause of concern for cannabis users because saliva production plays a key role in helping to protect our oral health. The antibacterial compounds found in saliva act as the body’s natural defense mechanism against harmful oral bacteria like plaque.
When dry mouth occurs, it creates an ideal environment for bacterial build up, which can then lead to the development of fungal infections, tooth decay, and gum disease. When dry mouth becomes pervasive, severe infections in the underlying gum tissue and bone structure that holds our teeth into position can take hold. Over time, this can lead to permanent tooth loss.
If bouts of high induced hunger leads to increased snacking, particularly of junk food items, it only further contributes to the development of decay.
Making Cannabis Use Less Dangerous to Your Oral Health
For patients that enjoy using cannabis, health experts have a few tips on how to reduce the habit’s effects on your oral health.
To reduce dry mouth, make sure to stay hydrated, use toothpaste that contains high levels of fluoride, and brush and floss more frequently than before. This could even include brushing before using cannabis in order to reduce the amount of oral bacteria in the mouth before dry mouth kicks in.
By staying diligent about your oral health, cannabis use won’t be the end of a healthy smile. But failing to take the effect cannabis has on your oral health serious could results in needing to Google for a “dentist near me” needing more than just a simple cleaning.