It seems with each new election cycle another U.S. state legalizes marijuana use. It remains a flashpoint issue that intersects politics, law and morality, but there's another aspect that should also be considered—the health ramifications of using marijuana.
From an oral health perspective, it doesn't look good. According to one study published in the Journal of Periodontology a few years ago, there may be a troubling connection between marijuana use and periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a common bacterial infection triggered by dental plaque, a thin biofilm on tooth surfaces. As the infection advances, the gum tissues become more inflamed and lose their attachment to teeth. This often results in widening gaps or "pockets" between the teeth and gums filled with infection. The deeper a periodontal pocket, the greater the concern for a tooth's health and survivability.
According to the study, researchers with Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine reviewed data collected from nearly 2,000 adults, a quarter of which used marijuana at least once a month. They found the marijuana users had about 30 individual pocket sites on average around their teeth with a depth of at least 4 millimeters. Non-users, by contrast, only averaged about 22 sites.
The users also had higher incidences of even deeper pockets in contrast to non-users. The former group averaged nearly 25 sites greater than 6 millimeters in depth; non-users, just over 19. Across the data, marijuana users appeared to fare worse with the effects of gum disease than those who didn't use.
As concerning as these findings appear, we can't say that marijuana use singlehandedly causes gum disease. The condition has several contributing risk factors: diet, genetics, and, most important of all, how well a person manages daily plaque removal, the main driver for gum disease, through brushing and flossing.
Still, the data so far seems to indicate using marijuana can make gum disease worse. Further studies will be needed to fully test this hypothesis. In the meantime, anyone using marijuana should consider the possible consequences to their oral health.