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Increased use in cannabis could be bad for dental hygiene

While the harmful effects of tobacco smoking on oral health, there has been less publicity about the impact of smoking cannabis, at least until now within Canada.

With the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada, dental hygienists are calling on users to consider carefully before using cannabis and, if it is used, then how often. This is because of evidence that suggests cannabis has a negative impact on oral health.

According to the American Dental Association, cannabis smoking is associated with periodontal complications, xerostomia, and leukoplakia as well as increased risk of mouth and neck cancers. With oral cancer risk, clinicians need to perform a thorough inspection of the oral soft tissues, dentists are advised to pay particular attention to the anterior floor of the mouth and tongue.

X-ray of teeth  at the Wellcome Collection in London.

X-ray of teeth, at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Further analysis indicates that regular users of marijuana, when smoked, tend to have poorer oral health compared with the general population. This is manifest as higher decayed, missing and filled teeth index scores, more plaque and poor gingival health.

According to Tracy Bowser, president of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, in a statement provided to Digital Journal: “Cannabis use has many side effects that can alter the state of our mouths, teeth, and gums.”

She adds: “We know that cannabis reduces saliva, leading to dry mouth. And those famous ‘munchies’ increase the time that teeth are exposed to sugars. As a result, cannabis users have a higher risk of cavities, gum disease, and oral infections.”

These are important considerations, given that good oral health is important for physical and mental well-being. In Canada, dental hygienists are working with patients who are cannabis users to develop individualized oral care plans.

Hygienists are also issuing warnings that cannabis can increase bleeding and slow healing. This is being presented in the form of a ‘cannabis conversation’ where hygienists are aiming to work with patients and to ensure that detailed advice is given.

As an alternative form of detection and a link back to oral health, other studies have shown that when tetrahydrocannabinol is present in urine, an increase of bone loss can be seen around teeth, and around dental implants.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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