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ADA survey takeaway: Dentists ask patients to not show up high on marijuana

Dental therapists fall between a dentist and a dental hygienist. They can provide preventative and restorative care.
Matthew Jones
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An online survey by the ADA showed 52 percent of dentists dealt with patients who were under the influence of marijuana, and 56 percent said they were limited in treating those patients.

Dentists are raising red flags about an increase in marijuana use by their patients.

A pair of recent surveys brought warnings about the drug’s effect on oral health and the problems of treating patients who show up for appointments stoned.

An online survey of 557 dentists showed 52 percent said patients were under the influence of marijuana during appointments, and 56 percent said they were limited in treating those patients.

The survey was conducted by the American Dental Association this year.

The survey also showed 46 percent of dentists needed to increase anesthesia to treat these patients due to the combined effects of marijuana and anesthesia on the central nervous system.

In response, the ADA suggested that patients refrain from using marijuana before dental visits.

“Marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, paranoia and hyperactivity, which could make the visit more stressful. It can also increase heart rate and has unwanted respiratory side effects, which increases the risk of using local anesthetics for pain control,” says ADA spokesperson Dr. Tricia Quartey, a dentist in New York. “Plus, the best treatment options are always ones a dentist and patient decide on together. A clear head is essential for that.”

Studies have also shown regular marijuana users are more likely to have significantly more cavities than non-users, the ADA said.

“The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, makes you hungry, and people don’t always make healthy food choices under its influence,” Quartey said. “Medically speaking, munchies are real.”

There are strong indications that smoking marijuana is harmful to oral and overall health, the ADA said.

In another survey of 1,006 consumers 39 percent used marijuana, with smoking the most common form of use. Separately, 25 percent of respondents said they vaped, and of those respondents, 51 percent vaped marijuana.

“Smoking marijuana is associated with gum disease and dry mouth, which can lead to many oral health issues,” Quartey said. “It also puts smokers at an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.”

Meantime, 67 percent of patients said they are comfortable talking to their dentist about marijuana. In response, the ADA recommends dentists discuss marijuana use while reviewing health history during dental visits.

“If we ask, it’s because we’re here to keep you in the best health we can,” Dr. Quartey says. “If you use it medicinally, we can work with your prescribing physician as part of your personal healthcare team.”

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.