In the discussion surrounding the legalization of marijuana, the last thing most people want to talk about is gum health. But researchers are looking into it anyway — and their findings aren’t favorable for the recently legalized recreational drug.

Marijuana for medical and recreational use has been legalized in so many states, with more joining their ranks every year. And this is soon to include California, although regulators haven’t worked out the details, yet.  As a result, researchers are better able to test and analyze its effects. One such recent study looked at the drug’s impact on oral health.

Regular Marijuana Use Can Cause Gum Disease

Frequent Marijuana Use Affects Gums

While doing his residency at a community dental clinic in Manhattan, a dentist began to suspect a link between marijuana use and gum disease. So when he started his post-doctoral residency at Columbia University School of Dental Medicine, he decided to conduct a study.

During that study, the team analyzed data from nearly 2,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included a periodontal exam. Of that number, 27% had used marijuana at least once in the past year. When compared to the periodontal data, there was a clear trend: Those who smoked marijuana frequently were more likely to have “pockets” in their gums (a sign of periodontal disease)–and had deeper pockets–than those who did not. This was true even when controlling for other factors, like cigarette use.

What Does This Mean for Oral Health?

Gum disease may be common — affecting nearly 50% of the population — but it’s also extremely serious. While mild gum disease can seem relatively harmless, if untreated, it can lead to loss of bone and gum tissue, and ultimately you may lose some teeth. Gum disease has also been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

Recognizing the signs is easy when you know the symptoms: Swollen, unusually red gums that bleed easily are the first stage. You may also notice foul breath, receding gums, and when it progresses far enough, loose teeth.

Fortunately, gum disease is very treatable, particularly if it’s caught early. However, the best way to treat it is not to get it at all. Prevention is simple: Good, thorough oral hygiene. To stave off gum disease, you’ll want to make sure that you’re brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, and flossing daily. But you can’t do it all by yourself. It’s also imperative that you see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. Your toothbrush can remove plaque at home, but if plaque hardens into tartar, removing it is a job only your dental hygienist can perform. A dental checkup also includes a screening for the symptoms of gum disease.

And of course, as the study indicated, frequent marijuana use can contribute to gum disease. So, legal or not, your mouth will thank you for your moderation.

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