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Heavy cannabis use damages gums

FEBRUARY 06, 2008

Heavy cannabis smoking has been strongly implicated as a major cause of gum disease in a study involving researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, the University of Otago in New Zealand, Duke University and the University of North Carolina in the USA.

Using data gathered through the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS), which tracks a group of 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73, they found heavy cannabis smoking was responsible for more than one-third of the new cases of gum disease by age 32.

 Their findings have been published in the February edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association including the Institute of Psychiatry's at King's,  Professors, Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi. 

Professor Murray Thomson from the University of Otago School of Dentistry and lead author of the paper comments that periodontal disease, or gum disease, is one of the most common diseases of adulthood and causes a range of problems, including the loss of support for the teeth.

“There is also an emerging body of evidence that it may also be a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and even pre-term birth.” Cigarette smoking has been a long-established risk factor for gum disease but this is the first study looking at cannabis. “The problem is not the smoke itself – it’s what is in the smoke,” says Prof Thomson.

“In the mouth, there is a fine balance between tissue destruction and tissue healing and the various toxins in the smoke disrupt that.”

For the study, they identified heavy cannabis users as those in the top 20% of cannabis use, equivalent to an average of 41 or more occasions per year between ages 18 and 32.

Prof Thomson says they had to be mindful that cannabis smokers are also much more likely to be cigarette smokers. “But even after allowing for this, we found heavy cannabis smokers had three times the risk of having established gum disease by age 32.” He says their findings have been made using a longitudinal study during which the state of participants’ gums has been tracked.

“We have been able to calculate that over one-third of new cases of gum disease between the ages of 26 and 32 could be put down to cannabis use.”

Prof Thomson says the findings account for some of the unexplained variation in gum disease among younger adults and this is particularly relevant when the topic is cannabis use – something that studies show tends to drop off with age after the mid-30s.

Please refer to the Journal of American Medical Association for the full study. 
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