New Study Suggests Link Between Gum Disease and Cannabis Use

June 9, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Everyone knows about the damage tobacco can cause to one’s oral health, but according to a new study from Columbia University, the risks can extend to another habit. For frequent recreational marijuana users, the risk of gum disease is apparently present, a surprising discovery for the researchers. Users of marijuana in other forms are vulnerable as well. Continue below to learn more about the relationship between frequent marijuana use and periodontal disease.

In a recent study, participants who used marijuana regularly had higher rates of gingivitis and other gum disease.

Researchers at Columbia University have completed a study linking recreational cannabis use — including hashish and hash oil – to periodontal disease. The study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, is one of the first of its kind to suggest a relationship between cannabis use in a variety of forms and gum disease. While other factors, such as tobacco use, are already known to cause periodontitis, cannabis use has not previously been identified as a risk factor for the disease.

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The lead author of the study, Jaffer Shariff, D.D.S., noticed a relationship between frequent recreational cannabis use and periodontal disease during his residency training. To complete the study, Shariff and his colleagues used data from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), specifically self-reported data regarding cannabis use among study participants.

More than 1,900 participants were included in the study. Of those who participated, almost 27 percent were self-reported recreational cannabis users who used cannabis in one or more forms at least once over the course of a year. Measurements including probe depth and gum attachment loss were used to determine each patient’s degree of periodontal disease.

The study showed that frequent cannabis users had more gingival sites with pocket depths deep enough to indicate moderate to severe periodontal disease. Less frequent recreational cannabis users did not have such sites.

In response to the findings, Shariff said, “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. The recent spate of new recreational and medical marijuana laws could spell the beginning of a growing oral public health problem."

Shariff continued, “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. 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."

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