By now most of our Castle Rock dental patients know that smoking tobacco presents a serious risk to their long-term oral health. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, or using chewing tobacco greatly increases the risk of everything from chronic bad breath, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer. But do the same potential risks exist for those that smoke marijuana? Possibly, warns a new study conducted by researchers from the College of Dental Medicine at Columbia University.
Data collected from almost 2,000 Americans reveal that regular users – those who smoke at least once a month over the last year – had twice the risk of developing gum disease when compared to nonsmokers.
With a number of states joining Oregon, Washington, and Colorado this past year in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the long-term oral health consequences associated with the drug becomes a pressing question.
Understanding the Risk
To calculate risk, researchers measure both the number of pockets between the gum line and teeth and the depth of those pockets – both signs of early gum disease – in the study’s participants. By both of these assessments, regular marijuana users fared worse than very occasional smokers and nonsmokers. If left untreated, gum disease can cause the deterioration and receding of gum tissue, which exposes the delicate roots of our teeth the harmful effects of decay. In the worst cases, gum disease can lead to permanent tooth loss.
However, before any conclusions can be made that suggests smoking marijuana is as bad or worse than cigarette smoking, researchers caution that this was simply an observational study. The data collected by researchers does not prove that smoking marijuana increases the risk of gum disease, only that an observable correlation exists.
But the fact that evidence points to such a strong connection – and that researchers noted that the more a study participant smoked, the more severe his or her sings of gum disease – is reason for concern, stated the research team. Researchers even controlled whether or not participants smoked cigarettes, which are directly responsible for over half of all gum disease cases in smokers. Even when the participant did not smoke tobacco, the risk of gum disease was still increased.
“Marijuana may be affecting the immune system, the inflammation process, or bacterial flora in the mouth,” wrote researchers. “Maybe by smoking, the bad bacteria increase in number compared to the good bacteria.”
Simply put, it’s just too early to know for sure how smoking marijuana could impact gum health.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the link between marijuana use and gum disease, researchers remain convinced that the smoke itself isn’t the primary problem.
While the heat of marijuana smoke can have a negative effect on the gum tissue due to the heat generated, the damage to gum tissue doesn’t come from the smoke itself, but rather from the chemicals contain within. “Depending on how marijuana is grown and what type, it usually has 430 to 460 different compound in it – more than cigarettes,” wrote the research team.
Improved Education is Key
For now, the main objective of researchers is to make more people aware of the link between gum disease and marijuana use. “When cigarette smoking become popular, people didn’t know all the bad side effects,” wrote researchers. “Then later on, when people found out the complications, it was too late. Now that marijuana is so popular, and legal in some states, let’s not be too late in improving the public’s understanding of how this drug could impact their health.”
For regular users of either tobacco or marijuana regular dental care is key. Scheduling frequent Caste Rock dental appointments remains a key to enjoying a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.