Half of Dentists Say Patients Arrive to Checkups Stoned, Survey Finds

Most would agree that a visit to the dentist is a less than ideal outing. And what do cannabis consumers often turn to before tackling something less than ideal? Grab the stash, light up, get a little toasty and press on, of course.

Evidently, so many cannabis users have embraced this strategy before their dental appointments that the American Dental Association (ADA) is speaking out, suggesting patients refrain from cannabis use before their visits. Additionally, a recent survey found that more than half of dentists (52%) reported patients arriving to appointments high on cannabis or another drug.

The findings were uncovered in two surveys: One surveyed 557 dentists; the second was a nationally representative survey of 1,006 consumers. Each survey was conducted as part of trend research by the ADA, which suggests the trend is due to increasing recreational and medicinal cannabis use across the nation. 

As dentists talk through patients’ health histories, Dr. Tricia Quartey, a New York dentist and ADA spokesperson, said that more have disclosed their use of cannabis since it became legal.

“Unfortunately, sometimes having marijuana in your system results in needing an additional visit,” Dr. Quartey said in an ADA media release. According to researchers, showing up for a dental appointment while high can limit the care dentists are able to deliver. 

The survey of dentists found that 56% had to limit treatment to high patients. Another 46% of surveyed dentists said they sometimes had to increase anesthesia to patients who needed care, due to the way cannabis and anesthesia impact the central nervous system.

“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,” Dr. Quartey said. “Plus, the best treatment options are always ones a dentist and patient decide on together. A clear head is essential for that.”

The ADA also notes that cannabis users are more likely to have “significantly more” cavities than non-users, particularly due to the foods consumers often crave after a smoke sesh.

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

The ADA generally cites the “strong indications” that smoking cannabis is harmful to oral, and overall, health. (Regarding the relationship between oral health and edible and topical use, research is still catching up.)

Quartey said that smoking cannabis is associated with gum disease and dry mouth, which can lead to other oral health issues. She added smoking cannabis also puts folks at an increased risk of mouth and neck cancers.

Among the consumers surveyed in the second poll, 39% reportedly used cannabis, with smoking as the most common form of use. A separate 25% of respondents vaped, and 51% vaped cannabis. 

The survey also found that 67% of patients said they were comfortable talking to their dentist about cannabis, as the ADA recommends dentists discuss cannabis use while they review health history with patients during their appointments. 

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

The ADA has also called for further research around cannabis and oral health, affirming its intent to continue monitoring the science and providing clinical recommendations for both dentists and patients. 

For cannabis users who want to stay on top of their oral health, the ADA recommends a strong daily hygiene routine of twice-daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, daily flossing, routine dental visits, and healthy snack choices.

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