Britain faces a gum disease epidemic because so many people smoked dope when they were younger, suggests new research.

The study shows smoking cannabis can lead to gum disease among people in their thirties – decades earlier than normal.

A study of more than 1,000 people found using the illegal drug for as long as 20 years was linked with the condition – the main cause of tooth loss.

Known medically as periodontal disease it affects up to 50 per cent of the population – often with irreversible consequences.

The findings contradict the common perception gum disease happens in middle age and is caused mainly by build up of plaque and poor dental hygiene rather than lifestyle,

They also add to evidence cannabis is bad for health – increasing the risk of accidents, bronchitis, mental illness, heart disease and cancer.

Policymakers, health care professionals and the public want to know whether recreational cannabis use is associated with physical problems later in life after major policy changes in the US.

Some states have made the drug legal for medical purposes, others have removed prison sentences for carrying small amounts and some let adults 21 and older use it for any reason.

Dr Madeline Meier, of Arizona State University, and colleagues looked at cannabis use data from 1,037 people born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 and followed them to the age of 38.

Self-reported and laboratory measures were obtained for gums, lung function, systemic inflammation and metabolic health.

Just more than half of the 1,037 participants were male and 484 had ever used tobacco daily and 675 cannabis.

Cannabis was associated with poorer gums, but not any of the other conditions. It has been suggested bad gums can lead directly to heart disease.

Other analyses suggest cannabis users brushed and flossed less and were more likely to be dependent on alcohol.

The researchers, whose findings are published in JAMA Psychiatry, said: “This study has a number of implications.

“First, cannabis use for up to 20 years is not associated with a specific set of physical health problems in early midlife. The sole exception is that cannabis use is associated with periodontal disease.

“Second, cannabis use for up to 20 years is not associated with net metabolic benefits (i.e., lower rates of metabolic syndrome).

“Third, our results should be interpreted in the context of prior research showing cannabis use is associated with accidents and injuries, bronchitis, acute cardiovascular events, and, possibly, infectious diseases and cancer, as well as poor psycho-social and mental health outcomes.”

Previous research has shown smoking cannabis regularly can even lead to gum disease in people in their early thirties.

A quarter of people who had smoked cannabis regularly from 18 to 32 years old had established gum disease. Add: The issue here could actually be the tobacco that they mixed in for a longer-lasting joint. Luckily, today there are healthy tobacco alternatives available.

Smoking tobacco also significantly raises the risk of gum disease in young people.

It’s a condition in which the gums, deeper supporting tissue and even the bone surrounding teeth become infected. The first stage is a build-up of plaque on the teeth.

Plaque is a sticky white substance formed when bacteria in the mouth mix with saliva and residues from starchy foods and sugar in the diet.

If plaque is not properly removed by brushing and flossing, it accumulates and hardens underneath the gum line into tartar – a hard white material that can be visible if stained yellow by tea, coffee or smoking.

Over time, it can lead to inflamed gums, or gingivitis, and they will bleed with brushing or flossing.

Other symptoms include receding gums, chronic bad breath, loose teeth or a widening space between gums and teeth.

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