Wouldn’t it be great if there were something you could take before a dentist’s appointment, something that would help you to stay calm and possibly alleviate a bit of pain? If you think cannabis fits the bill, you’re not alone—a recent survey from the American Dental Association found that more than half of dentists have seen at least one patient show up to their appointment high.
Is it a good idea, though? That’s where things get tricky. The short answer is that some dentists may be okay with it, under limited circumstances, if you discuss it with them beforehand. But there are plenty of reasons you might want to reconsider. So let’s discuss.
They will absolutely know
Your first question may just be: will they know you’re high? Most likely, yes. Remember, dentists aren’t just mechanics who happen to work on teeth. They are medical professionals, and they know what a normal heart rate should be, and how much saliva a person normally produces.
On the weed subreddits like r/trees, where there are many discussions about going to the dentist high, a common story is that the hygienists knew what was going on because the patient’s mouth was dry and their saliva thick and sticky. Or in the cases where they didn’t initially suspect cannabis use, they still thought something wasn’t right. “They were very concerned about my saliva,” one redditor says, “and I couldn’t just tell them I was stoned and not to worry haha”
By the way, that ADA report? It wasn’t just that half of dentists had noticed someone was high. The actual finding is that 56% of dentists said they had to limit care—that is, turn someone away, or provide less or different care than they had intended—because that person was high.
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Cannabis can affect anesthesia and other treatments
The American Dental Association “suggests patients refrain from using marijuana before dental visits,” as they gently put it, in their report on the subject. This isn’t just prudishness; there are several ways weed can interfere with treatment.
One is anesthesia. As a rule, you should always tell your anesthesiologist about recreational drugs that you use, even if you aren’t high at your appointment. They don’t ask because they want to get you in trouble, they ask because your history of drug use can affect how your body responds to the drugs that they are giving you. Cannabis users often need higher doses of anesthetics, for example.
Even if it seems like a dental visit is lower stakes than full-on hospital surgery, the rule still applies. Dentists may offer you local anesthetics, or sedatives like nitrous oxide. In the ADA survey, 46% said they have had to increase anesthesia dosages for patients who used cannabis.
Cannabis also affects several of your bodily functions. Besides dry mouth, as we mentioned, it can also increase your heart rate, and make it riskier for the dentist to use treatments that involve epinephrine or alcohol.
And then there is the legal and ethical problem of you showing up to a medical procedure unable to make clear-headed decisions for yourself. The ADA points out that if you’re going to give your dentist the go-ahead to do something irreversible, like pulling a tooth, you really can’t be considered to give “informed consent” if you’re under the influence of mind-altering substances.
Weed may not even have the intended effect
Okay, so you’ve considered all of this, and maybe even gotten your dentist’s okay to show up high (if you have a very laid-back dentist). Will it be the experience you’re hoping for? Maybe not. “Marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, paranoia and hyperactivity, which could make the visit more stressful,” the ADA notes.
In those discussions on reddit, some people report having good experiences. “The flossing and the water they use to rinse your mouth just felt really great for some reason,” one redditor says.
But there are also dozens of anecdotes with the opposite results. One redditor says, “I used to go high to the dentist all the time. But I found two issues: novocaine or whatever they used was less effective, and my teeth hurt way more if they were doing something besides a cleaning. The needle in my gums also hurts more.”
“Do not go to the dentist high,” another post is headlined. “It was even more painful and I felt like I was on a UFO. The aliens were doing experiments in my mouth.”