Does Cannabis Cause Cavities?

Recently, KCNC-TV, Denver’s CBS affiliate station, ran a piece on local dentists seeing an increase in cavities among pot-smoking patients. With newly legalized recreational marijuana in the state, there is likely to be a significant increase in usage, so we have to ask whether cannabis use leads to an increase in your risk for cavities.

No Real Data from Colorado

marijuana plantIt’s important to start out by noting that we don’t really have any data from our Colorado cannabis experiment yet. The KCNC story relies on the testimony from one dental hygienist. This is the flimsiest sort of anecdotal evidence, but it doesn’t stop the station from saying, “Patients are experiencing tooth decay, expensive dentist bills and the pain of dealing with it all.”

Although it’s true that some patients are indeed experiencing tooth decay, and sometimes reconstructive dentistry like tooth-colored fillings, dental crowns, and root canals can lead to expensive bills, we don’t really know that this is due to an increase in cannabis smoking.

What the Science Says about Marijuana and Oral Decay

So, sidestepping some TV-generated hysteria, let’s take a look at what the science says about the link between cannabis use and oral decay. A Swiss study looking at cavities in cannabis users showed little connection between marijuana use and tooth decay. Although marijuana users had significantly higher decayed surfaces than non-users, when you compared decayed-and-filled surfaces, the difference vanished. If anything, it seems, cannabis users are just less likely to get cavities filled. This lack of a difference is important because cannabis users brushed their teeth less often, had fewer hygiene visits to the dentist, and drank more sugary beverages.

Based on that comparison, it might even be that cannabis use has a slight protective effect on teeth, but we certainly couldn’t say for sure.

Of Pot and Periodontal Disease

However, one area where science definitely seems to implicate marijuana use is in gum disease. Cannabis use seems associated with significantly increased gum disease severity. One study suggested that it may increase serious gum disease risk by threefold. This is consistent with the level of risk associated with cigarette smoking, and likely has similar causes.

However, it should be noted that a re-examination of the data from this study showed that the original methodology may have overstated the risks. The re-analysis suggests that gum disease is only worsened in people over the age of 32, and then only by about 23%.

Protect Your Teeth and Gums from Smoking

Just because we don’t know how serious the impact of marijuana use may be on oral health, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious. Instead, take some steps to help ensure you’re protecting your teeth from secondary effects of marijuana smoking.

Dry mouth is the most common side effect of smoking marijuana. Saliva protects your mouth from bacteria, so if you notice your mouth getting dry, drink some water. If you get chronic dry mouth, try using artificial saliva.

Cut down on carb-loaded snacks during or after smoking. These will damage your teeth and gums. Don’t let pot smoking keep you from following good oral hygiene habits. Always brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily, and make sure you see a dentist regularly.

If you are looking for a Denver dentist to help you maintain good oral health, whether you smoke marijuana or not, please call 303-759-5652 for an appointment at Park Meadows Dental Care.