Study to Examine Cannabis’ Effect on Oral Health in Indigenous Communities

Dentistry Today
Photo by Katia Taylor


Photo by Katia Taylor

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Toronto has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study the impact of cannabis use on the oral health of indigenous populations.

The researchers will partner with indigenous communities and public health authorities to monitor changes in the study participants’ oral health and oral microbiomes, including:

  • Inflammation of the oral mucosa and periodontal tissues
  • The development of precancerous lesions and cancers of the mouth, head, and neck
  • Changes in oral and facial sensory function

The study aims to provide first evidence of the oral health risks associated with cannabis use in Canada’s indigenous populations, which already experience a disproportionate burden of oral disease.

“Indigenous people are resilient,” said Angela Mashford-Pringle, assistant professor and associate director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-principal investigator of the grant.

“Cannabis is one issue that has been discussed in many First Nations communities and how it affects the community. There is a need to understand the dental and health effects of cannabis for First Nations communities,” said Mashford-Pringle.

With cannabis legalized in Canada two years ago, studies have shown that there are oral health risks associated with its use, including an increase in periodontal diseases, the University of Toronto said. Indigenous leaders and public health leaders have expressed concerns about the escalated risks in these vulnerable communities, the university added.

“Knowing how big an impact the use of cannabis has on oral health indicators among the indigenous population will be critical towards the development of new policies and guidelines in prevention and treatment of oral diseases,” said Siew-Ging Gong, associate professor at the Faculty of Dentistry and co-principal investigator of the grant.

The researchers hope to raise awareness in these communities of the impact of cannabis on oral health and to do so in culturally appropriate, indigenous-focused ways. The team will use what’s known as the Learning Circle model in which elders and other community members share their knowledge.

“The Learning Circle utilizes the First Nations Principles of OCAP, which stands for First Nations’ Ownership, Control, Access and Possession of data and data collection processes in their communities,” said Herenia Lawrence, associate professor at the Faculty of Dentistry and principal investigator of the grant.

With an emphasis on oral transmission of knowledge rooted within indigenous communities and their values, the researchers hope to create respectful health research relationships that can have long-lasting impact on indigenous communities’ health.

“The Circles will allow us to evaluate the research outcomes through the lens of the community,” said Lawrence.

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