Columbia University Medical Center researchers show in a new study that the recreational use of marijuana and other cannabis-related drugs can increase the risk of gum disease.
Gum disease occurs when bacterial infections develop below the gum line. As a response, the body’s immune system causes the affected gum tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation aims to kill off the bacteria behind the infection. Inflammation is painful and causes the gums to become red and tender. Many patients with gum disease also develop swelling and bleeding as an effect of inflammation.
If left untreated, gum disease can develop into serious health issues, like cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and low birth weight in babies.
The Connection Between Gum Disease and Cannabis
The study examined patients at a community dental clinic in Manhattan, New York. Researchers observed a higher rate of gum disease among patients who used marijuana and marijuana-based drugs like hashish and cannabis oil.
Scientists on the study also reviewed data from almost 2,000 Americans who participated in a 2011 Centers for Disease Control study performed in conjunction with the American Academy of Periodontology. Over a quarter of the participants in this CDC/AAP study reported to have used marijuana recreationally in a 12-month period.
Participants in the study often had deeper-than-normal gum pocket depths, indicating evidence of moderate to severe gum disease.
"Normal, healthy gum pockets should be between 1 and 3 millimeters," Dr. Steven P. Rogers, D.D.S, P.C., said.
Rogers is a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, dentist. Oregon allows legal recreational marijuana use.
Rogers and other dentists around the country share a growing concern about the impact of marijuana use - legal or otherwise - on oral health.
Patients with deep gum pockets are at risk of loose or missing teeth, according to Rodgers.
"Healthy gums hold teeth in place tightly, and when gum pockets are deep, teeth loosen, shift and even fall out," Rogers said.
Shifting teeth and tooth loss are serious dental problems and can lead to problems with the bite, affect the ability to speak and chew, and even change the appearance of the patient.
"Many people think that losing teeth is not a big deal, but there are serious consequences that go beyond having a gap in your smile," Rogers said.
Increased Risk With Recreational Cannabis Use
Researchers on the Columbia University study found that patients who use marijuana recreationally are twice as likely to have gum disease than peers who do not use marijuana frequently or at all.
Recreational marijuana users are not the only ones at risk. Marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., with 12 more states pending.
"All marijuana users are at risk of developing periodontal disease," Rogers said.
In addition to periodontal disease, marijuana users are also subject to other damaging effects on the mouth caused by smoking the drug.
"Marijuana smoke, as well as cigarette smoke and electronic cigarette use, have all been found to kill off cells in the mouth," Rogers said.
The cells of the mouth, called epithelial cells, are the body’s first line defense against disease-causing bacteria and viruses. When these cells are damaged, individuals have a higher risk of contracting illness.
All patients should discuss their recreational or medicinal marijuana use with their dentist. This allows the dentist to monitor their gums for signs of disease and provide treatments to limit infection and serious health risks.
"Gum disease, when caught in the early stages, is completely treatable and may be reversible for many patients with good oral hygiene practices," Rogers said.
The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Periodontology.