CHICAGO — It’s perfectly natural to feel a bit nervous before heading to the dentist, but a team from the American Dental Association (ADA) suggests avoiding marijuana before your appointment. As personal and medical marijuana use increases all over the country, a new poll finds more than half of dentists (52%) suspect a significant number of their patients are high on marijuana or another drug when they arrive for a checkup.
Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 19 U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia. Medicinal marijuana, meanwhile, is legal in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
“When talking through health histories, more patients tell me they use marijuana regularly because it is now legal,” says ADA spokesperson Dr. Tricia Quartey, a dentist in New York, in a media release. “Unfortunately, sometimes having marijuana in your system results in needing an additional visit.”
Dentists cut back on care when you’re high
Researchers explain that showing up for a dental appointment high can end up limiting the care these professionals deliver. Most dentists (56%) admit they limit treatment to patients who are high. Additionally, due to concerns over how marijuana and anesthesia impact the central nervous system, 46 percent of dentists in the survey say sometimes they need to use more anesthesia on certain patients.
The team collected these findings through two online surveys earlier this year. One consisted of 557 dentists, and the second was a nationally representative survey of 1,006 consumers, put together as part of trend research by the ADA.
“Marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, paranoia and hyperactivity, which could make the visit more stressful. It can also increase heart rate and has unwanted respiratory side effects, which increases the risk of using local anesthetics for pain control,” Dr. Quartey explains. “Plus, the best treatment options are always ones a dentist and patient decide on together. A clear head is essential for that.”
Prior research has found that habitual marijuana users are more likely to have significantly more cavities than non-users.
“The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, makes you hungry, and people don’t always make healthy food choices under its influence,” the ADA spokesperson adds. “Medically speaking, munchies are real.”
Marijuana may be harmful to oral health
While the general topic of how marijuana may influence oral health is still largely understudied, there are strong indications that smoking marijuana isn’t ideal for either oral or overall health. Consumers surveyed for the second poll were asked about their marijuana and vaping use. That survey found nearly four in 10 (39%) patients use marijuana, with smoking being the most common habit. Another 25 percent of respondents vape and 51 percent vape marijuana.
“Smoking marijuana is associated with gum disease and dry mouth, which can lead to many oral health issues,” Dr. Quartey says. “It also puts smokers at an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.”
Interestingly, most patients apparently aren’t all that shy about discussing marijuana with their dentist. In fact, two in three say they are comfortable talking to their dentist about cannabis. The ADA spokesperson recommends that dentists take advantage of this transparency, and discuss marijuana use with patients while reviewing their health history.
“If we ask, it’s because we’re here to keep you in the best health we can,” Dr. Quartey concludes. “If you use it medicinally, we can work with your prescribing physician as part of your personal healthcare team.”
Researchers recommend that habitual marijuana users adhere to a strong daily hygiene routine of brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing between their teeth daily, visiting the dentist regularly, and choosing healthy snacks.