One of the most famous side effects of using methamphetamine (meth) for a long period of time is meth mouth.
A condition that can cause tooth loss and severe tooth decay along with fractured teeth and the acid-based erosion of dental enamel, meth mouth can be related to symptoms caused by the drug itself, such as dry mouth and grinding teeth. It’s also caused by factors surrounding drug use, such as consuming too much sugar and neglecting one’s dental care.
But meth is not the only drug of abuse that can hurt teeth.
Which drugs can cause dental problems and why?
Other drugs can cause problems with a person’s mouth and teeth. Such drugs include marijuana (when it is smoked), cocaine, and heroin.
Studies have found that smoking marijuana can lead to:
- Greater number of cavities
- Dry mouth
- Loss of taste buds
- Precancerous (usually white) lesions in the lining of the mouth.
Many marijuana-related oral health problems have more to do with the smoke that marijuana produces. Such issues do not occur in people who use marijuana oil or marijuana edibles. For example, a New Zealand study followed people who smoked marijuana at least once a week starting as teenagers. The researchers found that these marijuana smokers typically had one or more loose teeth by the age of 32.
Snorting cocaine frequently damages tissues of the nose. Frequent users of cocaine tend to have tears in the septum between the nostrils, chronic sinus problems, losses in their sense of smell, frequent nosebleeds, and perforations in the palate.
Cocaine users can develop a condition known as buccolingual dyskinesia, which forces their tongues out from between their pursed lips. They can also develop chapped lips and halitosis (bad breath).
People who use cocaine also have accelerated rates of tooth decay. This is due to the dry mouth triggered by the drug. The DentalCare.com site reported that when cocaine users have dental work, they tend to bleed excessively, and the combination of cocaine and dry mouth can cause gold dental work to erode.
Heroin use also accelerates tooth decay by causing dry mouth. Heroin users can also suffer from burning sensations in their mouths.
All of these drugs can cause mouth and dental problems, but they’re especially bad for meth users. That’s because meth mouth just doesn’t accelerate tooth decay by drying out the mouth so saliva does not wash food particles away. Meth is also harmful to dental health in several unique ways.
Why is meth especially damaging to the teeth?
Just one of the ways that meth hurts teeth is its effect on blood flow. Meth causes blood vessels to tighten. This constriction of blood vessels reduces circulation to the salivary glands, so they don’t produce as much saliva to keep the gums clean, and also to the gums, so they don’t get the nutrients and oxygen they need to stay healthy to hold the teeth in place.
Smoking or injecting meth lowers blood sugar levels and gives users sugar cravings. This drives people who use meth to consume sweet foods, which also contribute to tooth decay.
Drugs such as meth can also cause general dehydration at the same time users forget to drink water and other beverages for hydration. This further decreases blood circulation and aggravates dry mouth.
Long-term meth users can also develop parafunctional habits, which are repeated movements that don’t relate to any of the normal activities of their daily lives. These parafunctional habits may include grinding and clenching the teeth. Such behaviors may only damage their dental enamel further.
Such oral problems often surface about the time users become tweakers when they no longer receive the same good feelings they once received from their usual amount of meth.
Tweakers might rock back and forth or repeatedly cross and uncross their legs at the same time they start unconsciously grinding and clenching their teeth. At this point, users don’t achieve the same high, so they might use more and more meth, making its side effects worse and worse.
Meth mouth is usually worse in users who inject meth than in users who smoke it.
What can people do about meth mouth?
The best way to treat meth mouth is to find a way to stop using the drug. There isn’t a lot your dentist can do after dental symptoms become severe, although a dentist can help your teeth stay better looking if you visit as soon as you start noticing dental changes.
Fluoride toothpaste and fluoride mouthwashes can slow down decay and other problems. Sialogogues, drugs that stimulate the production of saliva, can help prevent dry mouth and tooth decay.
An even better way to treat meth mouth is to attack the cause of it — drug abuse and addiction — instead of just treating the symptoms. Experienced meth addiction treatment can treat addiction as well as mouth and dental problems that could accompany it.