Study Links Pot Smoking to Gum Disease

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A study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association shows that routine smokers of marijuana have a higher risk of gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss. Researchers speculate that pot smoking could negatively affect the body's immune system and inflammatory response.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now a word about teeth and the unappetizing subject of gum disease. It's something you get as you age, especially if you don't floss. And there's growing evidence that gum disease is happening at younger ages, having to do with lifestyle choices as well as plaque.

NPR's Patty Neighmond reports.

PATTY NEIGHMOND: Recent studies have implicated tobacco smoking as a major cause of early gum disease and tooth loss. Now, a study from New Zealand shows that smoking marijuana regularly can also lead to dental problems.

Researchers talked to 903 young people at different ages: at 18, then again at 21, 26, and finally at 32. They found those who smoked marijuana the most -that's more than 40 times during the previous year - they were significantly more likely to suffer gum disease compared to those who smoked less or not at all. And the gum disease occurred at an early age, before 32.

Scientists speculate marijuana impairs the body's immune system and stimulates inflammation of the gums, similar to nicotine. Inflammation can extend deep into dental tissue and cause the loss of supporting connective tissue. And that can result in the loss of teeth.

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patty Neighmond, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can find out the latest science about sleep, vaccinations for adults, or even what happens to your heart as you watch a sporting event, at npr.org/yourhealth.

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