Choosing Between Spliffs and Joints: A Stoner’s Guide to Understanding the Difference
by Mary E.
One can only hope that smoking cannabis doesn’t harm oral health, but unfortunately, research shows this is not the case. Smoking cannabis, whether for medical or recreational use, frequently has been linked to an increased risk of adverse effects on oral health. These effects include tooth decay, gum disease, and dry mouth. In fact, cumulative research suggests that cannabis users are more likely to develop dental cavities, oral soft tissue disease, poor dental hygiene, and periodontal diseases than non-users.
So, is smoking weed bad for your teeth? In this blog post, we’ll explore why smoking weed may actually be unhealthy for your teeth and gums despite offering numerous other health benefits elsewhere in the body. Read on to learn how to practice good dental hygiene habits and prevent long-term damage to your oral health.
Cannabis and tobacco products both lead to an increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay. You may be asking yourself, “How long does it take for smoking to affect your teeth?”
Well, it depends on several factors—particularly your existing oral health and how much you smoke. Research has also noted confounding factors that make the picture less clear, including age, systemic health, concurrent alcohol and tobacco use, and socioeconomic status.
Cannabis smoking can negatively affect your oral health in as little as one week, or you may notice the effects years later. For example, research shows that chronic (2 or more years) of cannabis use among adults resulted in gingival enlargement with clinical characteristics similar to phenytoin-induced enlargement. Unknown to most people, gingival enlargement is the increase in the size of your gums. This affects the alignment of your teeth and can increase your chances of developing gum disease.
However, it is important to note that although both cannabis and tobacco products can negatively affect oral health, their smoke is different, with recent research suggesting cannabis smoke is less harmful than tobacco smoke. Unlike tobacco smoke, there is no clear association between cannabis smoke and oral or head and neck cancers. Additionally, weed smokers have poor oral health for a variety of reasons. Let’s explore them in more detail.
Smoking cannabis increases the likelihood of developing conditions, including xerostomia, which causes chronically dry mouth and white patches or spots inside the mouth (leukoplakia). Cannabis smokers’ salivary glands produce less saliva, which is essential for removing and destroying bacteria, preventing cavities, and keeping your mouth moist.
According to research, this is because THC directly activates CB1 and CB2 receptors in salivary glands, which stops saliva production. Since CBD does not appreciably bind to either CB receptor, taking a CBD tincture or edible shouldn’t result in the same dryness as THC. Additionally, the sheer heat from smoking causes worsening of dry mouth.
Unfortunately, dry mouth—also sometimes called “cotton mouth”—is one of the most prevalent oral health problems associated with cannabis use. It can be challenging to determine the precise effects of cannabis-related issues on oral health because many people also smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, or even use illegal drugs. Many people also don’t know how to practice good oral hygiene habits or visit the dentist regularly, most often for socioeconomic reasons.
Your diet directly affects your mouth’s general health and the state of your teeth and gums. For example, overeating starchy, processed foods, and sugar can increase your risk of developing cavities, gum disease, poor breath, and other dental issues. In addition, these sugary and starchy foods easily get stuck between your teeth, feeding bacteria and causing tooth decay. This process is accelerated when there is dry mouth present.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary compound in cannabis, is known to increase appetite—a phenomenon known as “the munchies.” While this side effect can help patients with certain medical conditions, it’s also responsible for the unbeneficial cravings many people experience after consuming cannabis. It might be tempting to ingest junk food by the handful while high, but it’s important to be mindful of the foods you eat for the sake of your dental health.
Check out this article for some tips on keeping the munchies at bay: How to Stop the Munchies After Getting High
It is essential to be aware of the potential oral health complications that can arise from consuming cannabis. These include stained teeth, tooth decay, periodontal disease, etc. By understanding the risks associated with smoking cannabis, you can take steps to protect your oral health.
Cannabis contains over 550 different compounds, including many compounds that are potentially harmful to oral health in excess. Plus, when something is smoked, there is the creation of entirely new compounds that are also harmful to mouth health. When cannabis combusts (burns), the compounds form cannabis resin, which can subsequently deposit on the teeth and cause staining.
The color of the stains can vary depending on the type of cannabis smoked and the frequency of smoking. However, they are typically yellow or brown. In some cases, the stains can be tough to remove and may cause permanent damage to the tooth enamel.
Smoking anything, including cannabis, can cause tooth decay. This is because most smokeable products contain tar, a known contributor to tooth decay. Although cannabis itself does not contain tar, it naturally forms when you fire up a joint or bowl. Furthermore, smoking cannabis wrapped in a tobacco-based cigar produces other chemicals that contribute to tooth decay, such as carbon monoxide, which replaces oxygen in your blood and damages your gums and teeth.
The smoke also produces pyrolytic byproducts, which perform a similar function. All of these contribute to an increased number of bacteria in the mouth. Now, you may wonder: Is vaporizing weed still bad for your teeth? Well, vaping has significantly less carbon monoxide and only 10% of the tar exposure but yields high ammonia concentrations. This can prevent your mouth from producing saliva and lead to dry mouth and bacteria buildup.
Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a severe condition affecting teeth and gum health. It results from bacteria accumulating in the plaque on your teeth and can cause inflammation, pain, and even tooth loss if left untreated. Periodontal disease falls into two types: gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a milder form of periodontal disease that only affects the gums. Periodontitis is a more severe periodontal disease that can destroy the gum tissue and bone supporting your teeth and jaw. If not treated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss.
Studies have shown that regular cannabis use can increase the risk of periodontal disease. One of the main ways smoking cannabis contributes to this is by disrupting saliva flow. When saliva flow decreases, the mouth becomes dry and cannot thoroughly wash away harmful bacteria that lead to plaque buildup and gum disease.
Also, the irritants in the smoke can damage the gum tissue that supports teeth, potentially causing them to separate from one another. This makes it easier for bacteria to enter these spaces and cause infection in your mouth.
There are still ways you can reduce the risk of ruining teeth due to smoking. For example, drinking more water and snacking healthier will help prevent dry mouth and bacteria buildup. Additionally, be sure to practice good oral hygiene. This includes brushing and flossing your teeth daily and using a water floss device if advised by your oral hygienist.
It can also help to brush your teeth after smoking, as it would lessen the amount of time tar and other smoking byproducts linger on your teeth and gums. Establishing better habits when smoking cannabis is one of the best ways to protect your oral health. Of course, you should also regularly visit your dentist for cleanings and personalized advice.
Water is essential for life and good health, yet many people struggle daily with getting enough water. It aids digestion, helps flush toxins from the body, and prevents constipation. In addition to all of this, water offers excellent oral health benefits as well.
Drinking more water can help increase the saliva in your mouth, which can help reduce the staining and discoloration of teeth caused by smoking weed. Keeping your mouth moist prevents enamel-destroying dryness, which can result in foul breath if left untreated. So, if you’re a cannabis user and want to avoid staining your teeth, drink plenty of water.
Eating healthier snacks is good for your overall health and can also help reduce the number of dangerous bacteria in your mouth. When you smoke cannabis and consume sugary foods or beverages, the bacteria in plaque release damaging acids that eat away at your tooth enamel, leading to decay, pain, and tooth loss. This can be prevented by eating fewer sugary foods, which naturally reduces the incidence of cavities and other dental issues triggered when combining weed smoke with sugar in junk food snacks.
A good strategy for staying consistent with healthy snacking is to keep your body satisfied throughout the day. You can do this by eating smaller meals or following delicious healthy snack recipes. Also, before eating an unhealthy snack, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry, or am I just craving this?”
Try to have intuitive conversations with yourself about what you are putting into your body, and try not to judge yourself harshly if you do end up reaching for an unhealthy snack. These are just a few starter tips to help you resist the urge to indulge in unhealthy cravings after cannabis consumption.
For healthy munchie inspo, check out this article: 12 Simple and Healthy Snacks Guaranteed to Satisfy the Munchies
If you’re a smoker, try to drink plenty of water and keep healthy snacks on hand to help prevent the harmful oral effects of smoking. However, don’t let the adverse effects of smoking keep you from reaping cannabis’ benefits in other ways. Remember, there’s something for everyone when it comes to enjoying this healing plant. Try edibles, oils, tinctures, ointments, or other forms of cannabis if the risks related to oral health are not worth it for you.
Stay up to date on all things cannabis-related with Veriheal. Our virtual team of professionals is always a click away if you need assistance finding MMJ providers in your state. You can also book a personalized consultation with a cannabis coach if you still have questions.
Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.
This article was originally written by Chane Leigh and published on 12/11/19. Updated on 4/3/23.
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