Cannabis and Oral Health

Dr. Kyle Hornby

I am a Kitchener Dentist and, each week, I explore a few topics to help you understand what's safe and what's not for your teeth and gums. Today, I'm going to discuss the potential effects that Cannabis can have on your oral health.

With its fairly recent legalization for widespread recreational and medicinal uses, Cannabis consumption is increasing. Cannabis, for instance, can provide patients battling chronic pain with relief and comfort. As people continue to use Cannabis both medicinally and recreationally, it is important that they understand oral health effects. Moreover, understanding how cannabis consumption affects the mouth can alert patients that they may need to alter their oral homecare strategy to keep things in balance and stay healthy.

Cannabis and Oral Health: Dietary Effects

THC, the main psychotropic agent in Cannabis, is a strong appetite stimulant. Commonly, patients using Cannabis will consume high-carbohydrate snacks which make their teeth more susceptible to dental caries or cavities. Overall, regular use of Cannabis and associated high-carb snacking can shift the mouth's balance toward favouring more harmful bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

Here's what you can do to offset harmful effects:

Try to snack on healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. Minimize or avoid starchy snacks that will stick tenaciously to teeth while fueling harmful oral bacteria. Cannabis users sometimes forget to brush their teeth before going to bed which allows high-carbohydrate plaque to stay on their teeth for an additional 8-10 hours while they sleep. Try to be vigilant about brushing for 2-3 minutes after Cannabis use and snacking.

Cannabis and Oral Health: Dry Mouth Effects

Cannabis consumption, regardless of the intake route, causes dry mouth or xerostomia. Low saliva flow following Cannabis use means that less of what you eat will be cleared from the mouth. If you snack on starchy food items, they'll stick even more tenaciously to your teeth in the absence of regular saliva flow. And we all know that high-carb foods sticking to your teeth is a recipe for tooth decay.

Here's what you can do to offset harmful effects:

Try to drink lots of water at frequent intervals after using Cannabis, especially if you're snacking. This will help to boost your clearance of food and minimize plaque buildup. After snacking, do your best to brush and floss your teeth to minimize the risk of tooth decay.

Cannabis and Oral Health: Tissue Changes and Malignancy

Cannabis use can lead to gradual changes in the soft tissues of the mouth. These include enlargement of the gums, chronic tissue inflammation, and development of white patches (or leukoplakias) throughout the mouth. Importantly, these oral changes can progress to become oral cancers.

Currently, it is not understood if the above changes are seen only in patients who smoke Cannabis. Perhaps individuals who consume Cannabis through other routes are minimally susceptible (or not susceptible at all) to these changes. Additionally, research shows that these harmful effects increase dramatically in Cannabis users who also smoke cigarettes.

Here's what you can do to offset harmful effects:

Because we do not currently understand if these tissue changes differ with the route of Cannabis intake, it is difficult to recommend one particular intake route as being safer than another. Generally, experts suggest that smoking Cannabis causes the greatest exposure to irritants and contaminants. However, there is a lot we still do not understand about the risks that come with different intake routes.

One thing we can definitively recommend is that Cannabis users avoid smoking cigarettes to minimize risk of developing malignancies of the oral tissues.

Cannabis and Oral Health FAQs

Can CBD cause Oral Thrush (Candidiasis)?

Consumption of Cannabis has been shown to lower immune function. In fact, statistics show a higher incidence of thrush in Cannabis users. However, CBD, which is just one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, has been show to have anti-fungal properties. Because of this, there has been some suggestion that CBD oil may provide a natural treatment for eliminating oral candidiasis.

Can Cannabis help with tooth pain?

One component of Cannabis, called THC, acts on receptors in your brain to activate the reward system and reduce pain. CBD has also been show to have positive effects for decreasing pain.

Particular strains of Cannabis, like Cannabis Indica, have been rated by medical patients to best control chronic pain. This suggests there is variability in pain control among different strains. Individuals pursuing pain relief may choose to focus on use of Indica strains to maximize pain relief.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist

Our Kitchener Dental Office is conveniently located in Downtown Kitchener and we are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.

Enjoy a fresh start.
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