Half of Dentists Say Patients Are High at Dental Appointments

November 9, 2022 by Dan McCue
Half of Dentists Say Patients Are High at Dental Appointments
(Photo by Jonathan Borba via UnSplash)

CHICAGO — A new survey from the American Dental Association has found that more than half of dentists — 52% — say patients are arriving for appointments high on cannabis or some other drug.

Currently, recreational cannabis use is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, with five more states voting Tuesday on ballot measures to allow recreational use within their borders. 

Medicinal use is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

“When talking through health histories, more patients tell me they use [cannabis] regularly because it is now legal,” says ADA spokesperson Dr. Tricia Quartey, a dentist in New York. 


“Unfortunately, sometimes having [cannabis] in your system results in needing an additional visit,” she said.

Quartey and others in the profession say that’s because being high at the dentist can limit the care that can be delivered. 

The survey of dentists found 56% reported limiting treatment to patients who were high. 

Because of how [cannabis] and anesthesia impact the central nervous system, 46% of surveyed dentists reported sometimes needing to increase the amount of anesthesia they use to treat patients who need care.

Findings were uncovered in two online surveys earlier this year — one of 557 dentists and a second nationally representative survey of 1,006 consumers — conducted as part of trend research by the ADA. 

“[Cannabis] can lead to increased anxiety, paranoia and hyperactivity, which could make the visit more stressful,” Quartey said. 

“It can also increase heart rate and has unwanted respiratory side effects, which increases the risk of using local anesthetics for pain control,” she said, adding that the best treatment options are always ones a dentist and patient decide on together. 


“A clear head is essential for that,” Quartey said. 

Past studies have also shown regular [cannabis] users are more likely to have significantly more cavities than non-users. 

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

The science behind oral health and cannabis is beginning to emerge, particularly when it comes to edible or topical forms. 

Still, the ADA says there are strong indications that smoking cannabis is harmful to oral and overall health. 

The organization surveyed 1,006 consumers in a second poll around marijuana and vaping use. 

The results of the representative sample found nearly four in 10 (39%) patients reported using cannabis, with smoking the most common form of use. Separately, 25% of respondents said they vaped, and of those respondents, 51% vaped cannabis.

“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.” 

The ADA is calling for additional research around cannabis and oral health and will continue to monitor the science to provide clinical recommendations for dentists and patients. 


In the meantime, it is recommending that dentists discuss cannabis use while reviewing health history during dental visits.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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