Munchies and dry mouth can contribute to cavities and stained teeth. Here’s how to stop it
The munchies, craving sweet and bubbly beverages and fending off dry mouth — they’re cannabis clichés for a reason: Because often, they’re true. But can these minor annoyances negatively impact mouth health? How does smoking cannabis affect our gums and teeth? And is there a correlation between smoking Mary Jane and cigarettes?
We spoke with Dr. Andrea Gelinas, DDS, a Toronto dentist and the founder of Gelinas Dental Studio, to give us the low-down on what issues we need to be cognizant of when we’re smoking the good stuff.
Is there evidence that frequent or regular cannabis smoking can impact teeth and gums?
“When we look at comparing cannabis and cigarettes, it was actually difficult to find stats separating the two since most of the studies find people smoke both cannabis and tobacco,” Dr. Gelinas says, which makes it hard to parse out individual risk factors. “But one thing that we do know is that there’s a synergistic effect when you’re consuming both. Same thing goes with alcohol. So, that means that one plus one doesn’t always equal two — sometimes one plus one equals 10.”
In other words, if you’re doing both, or all three, the risk of dental issues can multiply, not just add up.
But “there is information showing increase in periodontal disease amongst frequent cannabis users compared to non-cannabis users,” Dr. Gelinas says. Periodontal disease is the breakdown and loss of the bone and the gums that surround the teeth. Dr. Gelinas also adds that there are studies that show gingival enlargement, which means swelling of the gums.
The most common issues from smoking cannabis can be dry mouth, also known as xerostomia. “The saliva is a very important component in the mouth because it helps buffer and balance out the pH, and when the pH of our mouth becomes very acidic, that’s when we’re prone to increased cavities,” notes Dr. Gelinas. “When the mouth is really dry, we usually end up seeing a spike in cavity formation.”
Another way that cannabis can relate to the formation of cavities is by not cleaning your teeth after a serious attack of the munchies.
But of all of the potential issues associated with smoking weed, Dr. Gelinas is most concerned about chronic irritation.
“The most important thing that I’ve found is that any kind of chronic irritation caused by either cannabis or tobacco smoke can actually cause changes to the tissue on a cellular level, where we tend to see these white and reddish plaques that form inside the mouth, which can actually be precancerous.” Once noticed, dentists will flag any area of concern to keep a close eye on them. “If there’s anything that changes or looks suspicious, usually we send it out for a biopsy.”
How can regular consumers prevent problems from forming?
Dr. Gelinas recommends being forthcoming with your practitioner about your cannabis consumption because “the more we can educate [the better], even though the information isn’t often front and centre. There are risks that patients should know about that we can then start the conversation.”
Some precautions would include one additional cleaning per year, and instead of one annual checkup, she would recommend two, especially if there are signs of potential precancerous cells. And if you have an appointment for a procedure that goes beyond a cleaning, again: Be up front about how much and often you smoke.
“I think it’s important to have a conversation with your dentist about what’s happening,” Dr. Gelinas says. “For example, if you end up smoking let’s say right before an appointment, it increases your heart rate and if you’re going in to get a filling, most likely the dentist is going to use local anesthetic with epinephrine in it, which is also going to increase your heart rate.”
Are there things that people can do to combat dry mouth?
Hydration is key, says Dr. Gelinas.
“We end up gravitating towards something that is a little bit sugary [when consuming cannabis], which then on top of the dry mouth is going to increase your risk of forming cavities.”
So it’s about being more aware of your habits when you’re elevated. Perhaps drink lots of water before you spark that joint so you’re hydrated before. And, as always, make sure to brush your teeth well before bed if you are consuming anything sugary. In fact, brushing before you go to bed is more important than when you wake up, because we tend to get dry mouth over night while we snooze — so make sure you brush every night.
And then are there any negative effects concerning vaping and cannabis?
“There’s really limited research at this point, to be honest,” Dr. Gelinas says, although she does note a study that came out at the end of last year that found that vitamin E acetate (which is banned in regulated vape pens here in Canada), can cause what is known as popcorn lung. “There are over 2,500 cases that have been reported, and it’s led to 55 deaths,” she says. “I’m sure as time goes on, the more studies that happen, we’ll end up finding out more and more information.”
What other ways can smoking cannabis affect your smile?
“There is definitely an increase in staining, which is usually exhibited by dark brown or greenish pigment that sits along the gumline,” she points out. “It’s a little bit tacky and sticky, and it’s not something that you’d be able to brush off with your toothbrush.”
Dr. Gelinas recommends going into the dentist to have a polish or to have scaling done to remove any spots. “And then the other thing that I can see on people is when there is chronic inflammation along the gum line — that shows up as the margins outlining the teeth on the guns appear a little bit right as puffy.”
How can you get rid of them?
“Increasing the frequency of cleanings,” Dr. Gelinas states.
Aside from seeing your dentist on a more frequent basis, she also recommends moderation when possible, and to also think about the risk/benefit factor.
“If there’s a medical indication and someone is suffering through chemotherapy, the benefit that they’re going to gain [from consuming cannabis] far outweighs the risks.” Which is similar to anyone dealing with chronic pain and/or someone wanting to get off opioids. “Always talk to your practitioners about it because they can help you, and it opens up the conversation to break the stigma.”
Written by Michelle Bilodeau, BEAUTY & CBD