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Is Your Oral Health Going to Pot?

Many of us remember when the idea that marijuana would ever be legal and easy to obtain seemed like a hippie pipe dream – but here we are! Though cannabis sales are not currently legal in Santa Clarita and pot is prohibited by the federal government, in Los Angeles and many other California cities, dispensaries are nearly as common as Starbucks or Subway locations.

Here at Santa Clarita Valley Dental Care, our patients are asking us about the possible oral health dangers of pot. It’s an excellent question, especially for those whose teeth and gums may be more vulnerable than others. In particular, research shows that older people are using cannabis at historic levels. However, one major study notes that more research is needed before we can understand the true impacts of marijuana on an aging population.* That makes sharing the information we already have more important.

Cannabis Oral Health Dangers

The days of “reefer madness” style anti-pot hysteria are now far behind us. Marijuana is, as drugs go, relatively benign – certainly, that’s true in comparison to both alcohol and tobacco which are far more potentially deadly. However, just as alcohol and tobacco have their specific oral health downsides, so does cannabis.

The Munchies!

You’re likely aware that cannabis users often find themselves enjoying their food a bit more than usual and also may crave an assortment of snacks – even if you’ve never consumed marijuana yourself, it’s a favorite reference point for late night comedians and some fast food outlets have even hinted at this in their advertising. In fact, improving the appetite is one of the more common medical reasons doctors may prescribe THC products. The problem is that most of us take it for other purposes and already have good appetites!

Obviously, eating a lot of sweet or salty snacks is problematic in many ways and that includes our oral health, particularly if we indulge in candy or sugary desserts. It gets worse because, since we’re high, we’re less likely to brush and floss our teeth afterward. Of course, if you’re consuming cannabis in the form of candies, sodas, or sugary baked goods, that can add to the risk of tooth decay as well. More about that later.

The Perils of Smoking…Anything!

Common sense tells us that – regardless of what’s burning – inhaling smoke and holding it in your mouth and lungs is probably not going to be great for anyone’s health. And, while the oral health risks of smoking or vaping tobacco products are extremely well-established, there are still some known dental risks from smoking weed.

The primary oral health issue related to smoking cannabis is dry mouth, which can cause potentially severe periodontal problems if left untreated. Probably less serious in most cases, leukoplakia involves white patches that appear in the mouth. While the syndrome is usually benign, it should always be looked at by an oral health professional as it sometimes appears alongside the development of mouth cancer. Finally, smoking or vaping weed may also be associated with an increase in mouth and neck cancers.

What about Edibles and Other Cannabis Delivery Methods?

Edibles, sprays, and drinks are increasingly popular and they have the benefit of not requiring us to smoke. Even so, these delivery systems are usually delivered in the form of sugary products. While they are as bad for your teeth as ordinary brownies or gummies, the truth is that these items are intended to be taken in small amounts – one cookie, square of chocolate, or gummy may be all you should even consider taking. The common phenomenon of getting the munchies and overeating ordinary treats that we mentioned above almost certainly poses the greater dental threat. Nevertheless, edibles provide that much extra sugar and give you one more reason to overcome your high and try and brush your teeth before bed, however altered your mood may be. It’s okay to brush while stoned – your toothbrush is not heavy machinery!

Sugar aside, many of the same impacts related to smoking marijuana may still be present to some degree in edibles. Some drying in the mouth is a frequent side effect and it’s not clear that eating or drinking THC protects you entirely from increased cancer risk. Even so, common sense suggests it has to be safer than smoking.

Finally, if you’ve never used edibles you should be very aware that, unlike smoking or vaping, their effects can take as long as an hour or more to kick in. THC overdoses can be pretty unpleasant but are very rarely serious, which is more than we say for alcohol or prescription drugs. Nevertheless, if you get impatient and double up on your edibles, you could be in for a very long few hours; it can cause anxiety among many other symptoms while THC slows down our perception of time. If you’re new to any marijuana product, stick carefully to the smaller recommended dosage on the package.

Questions about Oral Health? Call Santa Clarita Valley Dental Care!

At Santa Clarita Valley Dental Care we take care of people of all ages and lifestyles, and we’re ideal for both individuals and families throughout our area. Whether you’re looking for routine care to stop problems before they begin or need help restoring teeth, we’re a full-service dental clinic that’s here to answer all of your questions about any oral health topic.
*Oral health implications of increased cannabis use among older adults: Another public health concern?” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Austin Le and Joseph J. Palamara. August 22, 2018.

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