Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, and its usage is increasing. In spite of the reported risks of marijuana inducing mental health problems, it is generally perceived to be ‘natural’ and more harmless than other recreational drugs.
The fact that some people smoke marijuana for the management of medical problems such as extreme nausea, epilepsy and chronic pain, lends weight to the idea that it has a good safety profile with minimal adverse impacts on health.
From a dental practitioner’s perspective marijuana usage poses a number of serious risks to oral health. These risks need to be understood and considered by anyone using this drug – whether it is for recreational or medical purposes.
The risk of tooth decay increases; the greater the amount of marijuana smoked, the greater the risk. This is because:
The ‘munchies’ are a real phenomenon and the cravings are always for food that is bad for teeth.
Smoking marijuana makes the mouth very dry and hence the teeth are more vulnerable to bacterial attack.
Oral hygiene after smoking is usually very poor - related to the ‘chilled out’, 'Manyana', 'she'll be right' effect of the drug.
Gum disease is more likely to start at an early age, and behave more aggressively in users.
Marijuana supresses the immune system making the gums vulnerable to chronic infection.
Dry mouth and poor oral hygiene compound the problem.
Regular users of marijuana are more likely to have chronic oral candida infections (thrush).
This is likely to be related to suppression of the immune system caused by marijuana.
It may also be related to compounds in marijuana smoke that ‘feed’ the infection.
Increased risk of oral cancer.
Science offers contradictory findings about the role of marijuana in oral cancer. Some studies show that the risks of developing mouth and throat cancer are greater with marijuana use, and that those cancers are more aggressive in nature.
Marijuana users are more likely to develop the chronic soft tissue conditions that are considered to be risk factors for oral cancer.
Throughout my years in the dental profession I have cared for people who regularly use marijuana. Their tooth decay becomes a never-ending tide of trouble – at least until they chose to address the habit.
Although excellent oral hygiene, fluoride, medicated mouth rinses and Xylitol based chewing gum can be used as a support, they cannot stop the dental problems that this drug causes. They certainly cannot protect against the risk of candida and oral cancer.
The salient point is that there are serious health problems associated with the use of this drug that call for consideration by anyone interested in developing a truly healthy way of living.
Cannabis: Oral Health Effects. (2019). Retrieved 11 September 2019, from https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/cannabis
Cho C., Hirsch, R. and Johnstone, S.. General and oral health implications of cannabis use. Aust Dent J. 2005 Jun;50(2):70-4. Retrieved 11 September 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16050084