According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 million Americans smoke marijuana. The website drugabuse.gov cites stats from their annual survey on drug use and attitudes towards drugs as follows, nearly 12 percent of 8th graders reported using it over the past year, while 15 percent of 10th graders and 21 percent of 12th graders report themselves as regular users. The survey also suggests that widespread use among young adults and adolescents is in a holding pattern, but their perception about the risks of marijuana use has relaxed, probably influenced by its legalization in many states. However, two studies within the last decade indicate that long term use of marijuana may increase a user’s risk of gum disease.
One study, published in February 2008 from the Journal of the American Medical Association (http://www.jama.com), followed a group of 900 New Zealanders whereby each participant confirmed that they had smoked marijuana more than 40 times a year every year since the age of 18. Researchers found that within the group, marijuana was responsible for one-third of new cases found in study participants since their last follow-up at age 26.
While other studies have linked marijuana use with respiratory illnesses and some psychiatric conditions, this was one of the first studies to provide evidence of an association between marijuana smoking and gum disease.
The study was conducted at the University of Otego in New Zealand where researchers measured gum recession at three sites of each tooth for each participant. After a statistical analysis that accounted for dental hygiene, gender, economic status, and the cleanliness of their teeth, the associations between marijuana use and gum disease began to emerge. Even when statistics were evaluated among those participants who smoked tobacco with those who did not smoke tobacco, a clear link between periodontal disease and marijuana smoking was still evident.
From this study researchers believe that marijuana smoking interfered with inflammation response, blood flow to the gums as well as impairment of immune function.
Six Years Later…
To further prove that the conclusions reached by the research team in 2008 in no way interfered with results acquired from study participants who smoked tobacco as well as cannabis, another follow-up study was conducted when participants reached the age of 38.
To analyze cannabis use among the study participants, subjects were asked to report their own marijuana use at ages 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38. All participants were asked to perform health assessments and received regular physical check-ups.
Overall, recreational cannabis use over a 20-year period by subjects explained the increase in gum disease from ages 26 to 38 whereas tobacco use, alcohol abuse or lackluster dental care were not confirmed as contributors of the periodontal disease cited in subjects.
When compared with study participants who did not use marijuana, researchers concluded that consistent marijuana use over the span of 20 years was linked to a greater risk of gum disease in early middle age.