Having dental anxiety is very common and completely normal, but your anxiety may be a little higher if you’re a marijuana user who likes to smoke weed.
The legalization of cannabis has allowed marijuana enthusiasts to use weed more freely for its recreational and health effects, but at the same time, a lot of them are still uncomfortable when it comes to discussing their weed habits with their dentists. So, of course, there is the question of whether your dentist is able to tell if you smoke cannabis.
To be able to answer this question, we need to look at the relationship between smoking weed and oral health. While tobacco smoke is known to contain some carcinogens and other compounds that cause negative effects, weed smoke is much less talked-about.
So, let’s see what effects smoking pot has on oral health and what it says about your use of weed.
How Does Smoking Weed Affect Your Oral Health?
Knowing how smoking tobacco affects oral health, it’s normal to wonder if smoking pot also has any adverse effects on dental health as well. While cannabis use has long been affirmed as beneficial for many health issues, smoking marijuana is also associated with periodontal problems like gum disease and inflammation.
Xerostomia or Cottonmouth
Xerostomia, also commonly called cottonmouth, is a very well-known side effect that cannabis users experience. According to a 2006 research, the main contributor to these effects is THC, the main psychoactive component in weed.
THC is known to interact with the body’s cannabinoid receptors which are involved in many crucial processes in the body. One of them is the production of saliva in the submandibular gland. By binding to these receptors, THC inhibits saliva production which can cause many issues, including cottonmouth.
Tooth Enamel Damage
Similar to tobacco, weed smoke can lead to yellowing and discoloration of teeth. With long-term use, the smoke can stain the tooth enamel and even cause gradual dental erosion. This damage of the tooth enamel is due to the increased acidity in the mouth which leads to demineralization, which is the loss of minerals from the enamel.
Saliva is crucial not only for the digestion process, but it also helps to fight the build-up of bacteria in the mouth that cause bad breath and gingivitis. (Keboa et al, 2020) When the mouth gets dry often due to cannabis, it allows for bacteria to easily multiply and increase the risk of gum disease and inflammation.
Additionally, the high temperature of the weed smoke can also irritate the gums and make them more sensitive, and it can cause them to bleed more easily during brushing and flossing.
Smoking cannabis may increase your risk of getting cavities more often because of the combination of increased bacteria levels due to mouth dryness and the resulting demineralization of the tooth enamel, which is the protective surface layer of teeth.
What’s more, since marijuana use increases your appetite, you’ll find yourself snacking more often and reaching for more sugary foods which can increase the levels of acidity in your mouth.
Oral Hygiene Maintenance Tips for Weed Smokers
Knowing about the negative effects of weed smoke on oral health, it’s important to take steps towards reducing this impact. Some people switch to vaping, but there’s no evidence that it’s better for oral health than weed smoke.
Developing good oral health habits will protect your teeth and gum tissue in the long run while allowing you to continue enjoying weed in your preferred way of consumption.
Here are some tips on dental care that can help you along the way – some of them are pretty basic, but all of them combined together is what will make the difference.
- Floss daily – We all know how important brushing your teeth twice a day is, but when it comes to flossing, many of us can happen to skip a day or two. When you smoke marijuana you’re at an increased risk of developing gum disease, which is why you need to be diligent with flossing as well. Try not to skip any days and be gentle with your gums so as to avoid unnecessary bleeding. You can also rinse with a mouthwash afterward, which will help to remove any remaining sticky film on the teeth;
- Drink water – Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your body, not just for your overall health but it’ll also help with the unpleasant sensation of having a dry mouth;
- Use chewing gum – Chewing gum is great for controlling cottonmouth because it stimulates the salivary glands to produce more saliva. Saliva is needed for the remineralization of teeth and to protect them from cavities and gum disease;
- Cut down on processed foods – While marijuana can often give you the munchies, reaching for processed foods is not the best idea if you want to protect your oral health. These types of snacks are filled with sugar which can easily lead to tooth decay if you’re not careful. Switching to healthier options from time to time will benefit you more than if you keep relying on processed foods all the time. You don’t have to cut them out completely, of course. What you can do on days when you have sugary snacks is to rinse your mouth with mouthwash afterward to help protect your teeth and gums, and restore your oral microflora.
- Most importantly, get dental check-ups often – Seriously, don’t skip them, despite the anxiety and unpleasantness. Do your annual professional cleaning and any other interventions you need to get done. The sooner you deal with a dental problem, the better, and it’ll be worth it in the long run. If you can, refrain from smoking weed shortly before your dental appointment to avoid any drug interactions.
Finally, Will Your Dentist Know that You’ve Been Smoking Weed?
Considering all that’s written above, the state of your oral health as a weed smoker may not be much different than that of a tobacco smoker. That said, unless you go to your dentist appointment smelling of weed smoke, your dentist is unlikely to be able to tell what kind of smoker you are.
Additionally, if you make an effort to be very diligent with your oral hygiene – use fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly, watch what you eat, hydrate, and go for check-ups regularly – you’ll hardly have any more dental problems than the next person.
Ultimately, it all comes down to how you care about your oral health and what you do to protect your teeth and gums.
Thomson WM, Poulton R, Broadbent JM, et al. Cannabis smoking and periodontal disease among young adults. JAMA. 2008;299(5):525-531. doi:10.1001/jama.299.5.525
Keboa MT, Enriquez N, Martel M, Nicolau B, Macdonald ME. Oral Health Implications of Cannabis Smoking: A Rapid Evidence Review. J Can Dent Assoc. 2020 Jan;86:k2. PMID: 32119643.