When it comes to our long-term oral health, certain lifestyle habits can work to undermine the strength and resilience of our teeth and gums. While you might expect to one day need a dental bridge in Lakewood, CO if you consume a 12-pack of soda daily, there are other less obvious habits that can secretly sabotage our oral health.
For example, a major study from Duke University examined the oral health of 1,000 New Zealanders who had used cannabis for over 20 years. What the research team discovered was fairly surprising, especially in relation to the participants’ mouths.
No evidence emerged to suggest that cannabis use had any adverse effects on any physical health indicators, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, lung capacity, and body mass index. However, researchers did discover that regular cannabis use did have a significant impact on the participants’ teeth and gums.
“While study participants who had used marijuana to some degree over the last 20 years showed an increase in periodontal disease from age 26 to 38, they did not differ from non-users on any of the other physical health measures,” wrote the research team.
A Higher Risk for Gum Disease
When developing their finding for the study, the research team was deliberate in accounting for various outside risk factors, such as tobacco use, alcohol addiction, and poor oral hygiene. Despite accounting for these known risk factors for poor oral health, the research team still noted a significant effect from cannabis use on oral health.
An increased risk for gum disease was the most apparent effect on cannabis users.
Taking this and other studies into account, the American Dental Association has taken the official position that cannabis use is associated with periodontal complications, dry mouth, leukoplakia as well as an increased risk for neck and mouth cancers.
Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches or spots to develop on the inside of the mouth.
Messing with Your Mouth’s Mojo
A healthy mouth exists as a complex ecosystem that consists of a wide spectrum of bacteria. The average mouth will contain millions, if not billions – depending on the last time you brushed – of individual strains of bacteria.
Saliva plays a key role in helping to keep the mouth’s biome balanced. While you might not think much about it, saliva is actually responsible for a number of important functions, like breaking down the foods we eat and keeping the mouth moist. Importantly, especially for those who smoke cannabis, saliva works to breakdown and remove harmful oral bacteria from the surface of our teeth and from along the gum line.
Without saliva’s intervention, these harmful materials can remain in the mouth to wreak havoc on our oral health. Plaque, a sticky biofilm, clings to the surface of our teeth, and uses the sugars we consume to produce a harmful acid that contributes to tooth decay and gum inflammation. Healthy saliva flow works to reduce plaque buildup, which in turn lowers our risk for cavities and gum disease.
When cannabis is smoked, research has shown that it inhibits the mouth’s ability to produce saliva. Most cannabis users will be familiar with the sensation of dry mouth as a by-product of smoking.
This decrease in saliva occurs when THC mimics one of the body’s natural endocannabinoids – referred to as anandamide – which attaches to the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the submandibular gland in the mouth to lower the overall production of saliva. When an individual uses cannabis rich in THC, it signals the receptors in the mouth to decrease saliva production.
Protecting Your Oral Health
Fortunately, by taking a few precautions, most patients who use cannabis can still manage to avoid the need for a dental bridge in Lakewood, CO.
While dry mouth can contribute to a variety of poor oral health problems, these issues can often be offset by practicing quality oral hygiene at home. Brushing and flossing regularly works to remove plaque deposits from the mouth so the bacteria can do less damage even when dry mouth were to occur.
Furthermore, patients can take special precautions to help avoid dry mouth after smoking cannabis. One highly effective option is to chew sugar-free gum. Chewing gum stimulates the mouth to produce more saliva, thereby helping to offset the interference of saliva production caused by THC.
There are many reasons why a patient may need a dental bridge in Lakewood, CO, but smoking cannabis doesn’t have to be one of them. Practicing quality oral hygiene at home and scheduling frequent exams and cleanings with our team at Advanced Family Dental can help keep your oral health looking and feeling its best for years to come.