Regardless as to where your stand on the often-polarizing issues of medical & recreational marijuana legalization, the reality is that Marijuana has been legalized in New Jersey. As a dental provider it is most fitting to weigh in on this by highlighting the effects that marijuana has on oral health.
Marijuana smoking has been shown to be associated with several changes in the mouth. These include periodontal issues (gum problems), dry mouth (xerostomia), oral yeast infections, whitish lesions (leukoplakia) and also an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers. Marijuana traditionally has been smoked, but legalization has also made it available in other forms, including edible and topically applied products.
1. Reduced Saliva Flow
Whether you smoke marijuana or consume it by other means, it will affect the flow of saliva. In binding to the saliva glands, marijuana reduces the production of saliva, which leads to an unpleasant dry mouth. Saliva has several purposes, including washing away debris and bacteria throughout the night and day. Dry mouth associated with cannabis use leads to accumulation of food particles and bacteria around teeth, which in turn increase the risk of tooth decay, gum problems and bad breath (halitosis).
2. Unhealthy Food Cravings
Food cravings are common side effects with marijuana use. While scientists aren't clear as to the exact reason for this, many cannabis users tend to crave starchy and/or sugary foods. Both of these foods aid the bacteria that cause tooth decay. In addition, sugar and starchy foods are sticky, so they are more likely to get trapped on, between and around your teeth.
3. Irritation to Gums
Irritation of the gums as well as whitish lesions (leukoplakia) also appear to be associated with smoking of marijuana. Apparently, excessive heat from the smoke can irritate the gums, causing small mild burns. While such burns may not be apparent, the tissue nevertheless is damaged, increasing the risk of developing gum disease. Similarly, chemical contaminants in the smoke can irritate and damage gums and over time can lead to tooth loss.
4. Discoloration of Teeth
The cannabis plant contains tannins, which can be responsible for dental stains. These, as well as other ingredients in the smoke can result in tooth staining, causing them to often take on a brownish or yellowish tinge. Most dentists and hygienists are able to recognize these dark staining patterns on the teeth of patients who regularly smoke marijuana.
5. Dental Restorations (Procedures)
Dental fillings or crowns may not last as long as they should in patients who regularly smoke marijuana. This may be associated with the reduced saliva flow and cravings for unhealthy foods as described above.
6. Bruxism/ Tooth Grinding
There is some early evidence that Marijuana use is associated with increased Bruxism/Tooth Griding, however extensive studies on this have not yet been released.