NEW YORK — People who smoke marijuana regularly may want to book an appointment with their dentist sooner than later. A new study finds that frequent use of recreational cannabis boosts the risk of developing gum disease.
Dr. Jaffer Shariff, a postdoctoral resident in periodontology at Columbia University School of Dental Medicine (CDM) and the study’s lead author, noticed during his residency at a community dental clinic in Manhattan that gum disease could be correlated to patients suffering from the disease.
So Shariff and his team of researchers look at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011-2012 National Health and Examination Survey. They found 27 percent of the 1,938 adult participants used cannabis one or more times for at least 12 months.
The researchers looked for symptoms of gum disease in the patients — particularly the space between their teeth and gum tissue, or what’s known as pocket depth. While health gums would surround a tooth with a firm grip, deeper pockets of more than three millimeters meant the likelihood of periodontitis, or gum disease.
They found that participants who used recreational cannabis frequently were significantly more likely to have greater pocket depth and suffering from moderate to severe gum disease than those who used cannabis less frequently or not at all.
“Even controlling for other factors linked to gum disease, such as cigarette smoking, frequent recreational cannabis smokers are twice as likely as non-frequent users to have signs of periodontal disease,” Shariff says in a university press release.
“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,” he adds.. “The recent spate of new recreational and medical marijuana laws could spell the beginning of a growing oral public health problem.”
Dr. Terrence J. Griffin, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, agrees that looser marijuana laws should lead to better education about the effects that cannabis has on gums. Anti-marijuana campaigns aren’t typically talking about the negative effects the drug can have on a person’s smile.
“At a time when the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana is increasing its use in the United States, users should be made aware of the impact that any form of cannabis can have on the health of their gums,” says Griffin.
Dentists should perhaps take it upon themselves to ask patients about their use of marijuana or cannabis products, such as hashish and hash oil, during regular checkups, Shariff suggests.
“While more research is needed to determine if medical marijuana has a similar impact on oral health, our study findings suggest that dental care providers should ask their patients about cannabis habits,” he says.
The study was first published in the online issue of the Journal of Periodontology in Oct. 2016, but again included in the print edition in March.
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