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Don’t Let Your Oral Health go up in Smoke

  • December 21, 2016

Pennsylvania implemented its Medical Marijuana Act on May 17, but before you smoke, consider this: marijuana use may increase your chances of getting periodontal disease.

A study published in the Journal of Periodontology in October found that those who frequently use cannabis recreationally showed greater pocket depths, which are key gum disease indicators.

Pocket depth refers to the distance between the gum tissue and its attachment to the tooth. That depth is one to three millimeters in healthy mouths, and can range from three to seven millimeters in the mouths of patients who have mild to severe gum disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.

Of the nearly 2,000 people ages 30-59 who participated in this Columbia University College of Dental Medicine study, those who self-reported to frequently using cannabis on average had more than 29 sites around their teeth where pocket depths were four millimeters or more; nearly 25 sites where pocket depths were six millimeters or more; and nearly 25 sites where pocket depths measured at least eight millimeters.

By comparison, study participants who claimed to use cannabis less frequently averaged more than 22.3, 19.2, and 18.9 sites, respectively.

Researchers collected the data for this study as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that was done in 2011-12 and administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the AAP. These two entities have worked together since 2003. Since then, they have found that nearly half of all U.S. adults age 30 and older have some form of periodontal disease, according to an AAP press release.

“As a periodontist, my concern is that as we see cannabis laws relaxed, we may see more cases of periodontal disease,” says Dr. David DiGiallorenzo.

For those who support medical and recreational marijuana use laws, you might be relieved to know that other studies have found no additional connections to negative health conditions.

So what does this mean for dental patients? It means that if your dentist or periodontist diagnoses you with gingivitis or periodontitis, you should share all of your risk factors – including cannabis use — so an appropriate treatment plan can be created for you. Other risk factors include:

  • Heredity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Some medications
  • Some health conditions
  • A history of active gum disease

Patients can qualify for medical cannabis if they have a terminal illness or if they suffer from cancer, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable seizures, glaucoma, autism, sickle cell anemia, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin, or if conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.