Does Smoking Weed Affect Your Gums And Teeth?

weed bud in woman's mouth

Now that marijuana is legal in so many places—and the stigma of using it both recreationally and medicinally isn’t what it used to be—we’re seeing a lot more people smoke or vape cannabis. And yes, your dentist and hygienist can tell when you’ve been smoking marijuana. But how does weed affect your teeth, gums, or your oral health overall? Are “weed teeth” really a thing?!

How Does Smoking Affect Your Teeth

Marijuana aside, all types of smoking can impact your mouth and overall oral health. It’s not just marijuana and nicotine. First off, smoking anything will cause changes in your oral tissues. We tend to see your gums dry out more, not to mention heavy stains (particularly behind your upper front teeth, where the marijuana smoke hits your mouth first.) Plus, there’s usually an uptick in more precancerous and cancerous tissues. All of the chemicals and hot temperatures, day after day, gradually take a toll on your mouth at the cellular level. But with weed, teeth and gum tissues respond a little bit differently than they do traditional cigarette smoking.

THC Effect On Teeth & Oral Health

THC is what gives marijuana users the “munchies.” Typically, people who smoke weed tend to crave a lot of what we call “cariogenic” foods. Cariogenic=cavity forming. Think high sugar content and lots of processed carbs. When you use THC whether it’s through vaping, smoking weed, or other types of products like gummies or drops, you instinctively want to snack, snack, snack. And what we see in dentistry is that people who use marijuana tend to lean more toward wanting to sip on sodas, snack on candy, and basically eat all of the things that are just bad for teeth in general. The more often you’re using THC products, the more likely your munchies will start to cause problems in your mouth. [1]

Effects of Marijuana Smoke or Vape

One of the reasons why so many people vape is because they’ve been led to believe that it’s safer or healthier than traditional smoking or other nicotine products. What we’ve seen in dentistry is that both are equally damaging to people’s mouths. For some, there may be an uptick in cavities. For others, it could be more aggressive gum disease. One condition isn’t necessarily “worse” than the other; they’re both bad and they both have long-term implications.

Whether your smoking tobacco, smoking marijuana or vaping it, you’re going to see similar side-effects like:

The main difference between the two is that cannabis users typically experience more cavities and gum disease symptoms at an earlier age, compared to people who smoke tobacco but don’t use weed. Teeth and gums are not any less resistant to one over the other, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you start making any major lifestyle changes, even if it’s for medicinal purposes.[2]

A lot of vaping products also contain added flavors and sweeteners. When you inhale them, they coat the teeth and “feed” the bacteria responsible for causing cavities. If you’re using vaping as a healthy way to break a smoking habit, it’s not as healthy as what you might actually think it is.

Increased Snacking = More Cavities

Cannabis users snack more often than non-marijuana users. And because of the types of foods and drinks they crave, they tend to have a significantly higher rate of cavities throughout their mouth. And not just in the typical cavity-prone areas like between back teeth or in the deep pits/grooves of their molars. We also see smooth-surface cavities throughout their mouth, which is not a typical pattern for tooth decay. If someone is visiting the dentist for a checkup and we see lots of smooth areas with tooth decay in them, we know that something else is going on in the background. As a reminder, every time we eat or drink something, those food particles allow our normal oral bacteria to secrete acids for the next half hour. More frequent snacking means more acid, which means more cavities and tooth decay.

Then, there’s the fact that smoking cannabis tends to dry out saliva and contribute to xerostomia (dry mouth.) Even without the nutritional risk factors, xerostomia automatically puts people at a higher risk of tooth decay and getting cavities. When you have the two together, it’s a classic recipe for tooth decay.

Increased Risk Of Gum Disease 

One of the most common things—aside from cavities—that we see in people who use marijuana is gum disease at a younger than normal age. Periodontal (gum) disease is a condition where the tissues become inflamed and begin to detach from the roots of your teeth. In turn, deep “pockets” are created around your tooth and the underlying bone also begins to shrink back (resorb.)[3]

We often see an increase in periodontal infections in people who smoke cigarettes. Especially since their smoking habit limits inflammation and bleeding, masking the most common warning signs of gum disease. It might be similar to using cannabis. Especially if you’re snacking more often and not removing plaque as thoroughly or frequently as you need to.

On a related note, cannabis can also work as an immunosuppressant, which may be why some people are more prone to infections like gum disease if they use marijuana regularly.

Increased Risk Of Tooth Loss 

Periodontal disease is the #1 cause of tooth loss for most adults in the United States. And since we know smoking marijuana can raise your risk of periodontal disease, it by nature also increases your chances of tooth loss and negatively impact oral health.

As gum disease progresses, it can lead to gum recession and bone shrinkage, along with tooth mobility. If you seem to be getting “long in the tooth” for no apparent reason, the weed might be to blame.

Fortunately, there’s good news. If your dentist and hygienist provide you with gum disease therapy and dental care early on—and you re-vamp your oral hygiene routine—you can help halt the tissue deterioration before you lose your teeth. You can protect your oral health by practicing good oral hygiene and limiting marijuana use.  Just keep in mind that smoking delays tissue healing. People who continually smoke marijuana will likely fail to see less of an improvement in their oral health, even after professional dental treatment.

Increased Risk Of Oral And Neck Cancer 

We already know that smoking and smokeless tobacco raise your risk of head and neck cancer. Now we have data that shows us that there is an increased likelihood of developing oral cancer at a younger age if you use marijuana. Not only is the risk statistically higher, but the aggressiveness of cancer seems to be as well.[4]

Warning signs of oral cancer typically include sores that don’t heal or tissues that appear different from the identical area on the opposite side of your mouth. This can also include lumps or nodules.

Since oral cancer can be extremely difficult to pinpoint on your own, it’s very important to let your dental team know that you use cannabis and to schedule regular checkups with oral cancer screenings at least twice a year. Oral cancer is best treated through early intervention, so your routine exam and cleaning appointment could technically save your life.

Can Dentist Tell If You Smoke Weed…YES!  

If you think smoking weed is “less bad” on your teeth than smoking or vaping other things, think again. People who use marijuana on a regular basis are statistically much, much, much more likely to experience lots of cavities not to mention periodontal disease at an earlier age. Plus, an increased risk of oral cancer. And then there’s the tooth stain, but at least that can be polished off! Regular marijuana users need to understand how recreational or medicinal use over a prolonged basis can permanently destroy their smiles. If you do use marijuana, be sure to let your dental team know so that they can help you take steps to protect your smile. That’s their job!