More on the Cannabis – Gum Disease Connection

cannabisBlog long enough, and your inbox starts to fill with news releases. Among today’s batch: “The Forgotten Side Effect in the Marijuana Discussion,” in which a dentist insists, “I don’t see anyone discussing the negative effects of smoking marijuana, particularly to oral health.”

To which we say, you must not be paying attention.

Just about a year ago, in fact, we blogged about a then-new JAMA Psychiatry study which noted an association between gum disease and pot smoking. In fact, it was the only health problem linked with cannabis use.

Now a new study in the Journal of Periodontology confirms those earlier findings.

Analyzing NHANES data from nearly 2000 participants, the researchers found that “frequent recreational cannabis use” was associated with two important markers of gum disease: periodontal pocket depth (the deeper the pocket, the more advanced the disease) and attachment loss (the greater the loss, the more deterioration of the tissue that attaches the tooth root to your jaw).

Even after adjusting for cigarette smoking – the number one risk factor for gum disease – frequent marijuana users were still found to be more prone to develop periodontitis (severe gum disease).

Like the JAMA paper, the study doesn’t go into the why; it just highlights the association.

One possibility is that cannabis use contributes to dry mouth, which raises the risk of both caries (tooth decay) and gum disease. You also have to wonder about the role the munchies play, too. After all, the typical “cure” for the munchies is hyper-processed carbs and sugar.

Put those two together, and you get a double whammy. The lack of saliva means those kinds of foods are even more prone to stick around the gum line, feeding disease-causing bacteria.

Though research on marijuana use and oral health goes back decades, much more remains to be done. With increasing legalization, we’ll likely be seeing more sooner rather than later.

Meantime, if you choose to use cannabis – medically or recreationally – think about adding “ramp up oral hygiene and home care” to your to-do list. That includes tending to any dry mouth symptoms you may have.