Marijuana is being recognized for its benefits to both physical and mental health, but that doesn’t mean the drug is completely safe. A recent study from Columbia University offers evidence that recreational pot use increases the risk of gum disease and tooth loss.
In the study, researchers asked nearly 2,000 people about their pot habits, and then performed a dental examination on them. They discovered that those who used any kind of marijuana once or more in the last month were significantly more likely to have markers of periodontal disease than those who used it less often or not at all.
Periodontal (gum) disease is an inflammatory reaction to a bacterial infection below the gum line. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to receding gums and tooth loss.
Among the study participants, frequent recreational cannabis users had more sites with pocket depths indicative of moderate to severe periodontal disease than less frequent users.
Periodontitis can lead to serious dental issues like swollen or puffy gums, bleeding gums, receding gums, space between teeth, bad breath, painful chewing, and loose teeth—which can eventually cause them to fall out.
The point of the study was not to demonize marijuana and those who use it, but the team argue that it’s important to fully understand possible health consequences as marijuana becomes more widely used for both medical and recreational reasons.
“It is well known that frequent tobacco use can increase the risk of periodontal disease, but it was surprising to see that recreational cannabis users may also be at risk,” said study author Dr Jaffer Shariff, who first suspected a link between frequent marijuana use and gum disease while working as a dentist in New York.
The research should be a warning sign that increasingly relaxed marijuana laws in the US could have serious oral health implications, the study authors cautioned.
“The recent spate of new recreational and medical marijuana laws could spell the beginning of a growing oral public health problem,” Shariff warned.
Dr. Shariff noted that more research was needed to determine whether medical marijuana had a similar impact on oral health.