Methamphetamine was initially developed in the early 20th century as a stimulant to help people lose weight, breathe more freely, and stay awake. Meth is a Schedule II drug in the United States, so it has limited, tightly controlled prescription uses. This risky drug is more widely known as a potent, addictive, and dangerous substance.
People who struggle with meth abuse suffer many side effects, and they put themselves at risk for long-term damage to their physical and mental health. Short-term side effects from abusing meth include greatly increased physical energy, euphoria, loss of appetite, more physical activity, shaking or jitteriness, paranoia, nausea, and sweating heavily.
Another common side effect of taking meth is grinding the jaw or clenching the teeth. This may cause jaw pain and damage to the teeth in the short term. If it continues regularly because of addiction to meth, then jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and poor choices in food and beverages while high can lead to serious damage to oral health, colloquially called meth mouth.
Severe tooth decay, cracked teeth, tooth loss, and damage to gums, jaw muscles, and roots are all symptoms associated with meth mouth, a condition that many people who abuse meth develop over years of substance abuse. While meth itself does not directly damage teeth, it can trigger several behaviors that increase the risk of tooth damage and decay.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the pattern of cavities that are found in people who struggle with meth abuse resemble those in baby teeth in early childhood, which are sometimes called baby bottle cavities. People who struggle with addiction to meth are twice as likely to have cavities, four times as likely to have ever developed cavities, and twice as likely to have two or more missing, decayed, or filled teeth compared to the general population.
A survey in 2015 conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that of 571 people who struggled with meth abuse:
The report found that people who abused larger doses or took more frequent doses of meth were more likely to suffer dental damage. People who abused meth who were older than age 30, concurrent cigarette smokers, or female were also more likely to suffer tooth decay and damage associated with meth abuse. People who smoke meth are less likely to develop problems with their teeth than those who inject meth, which may be associated with how quickly intoxication sets in.
The best way to avoid meth mouth is never to abuse meth in the first place; however, if you struggle with meth abuse, getting help through an evidence-based detox and rehabilitation program can help you preserve your teeth.
As you quit meth, make an appointment with a dentist to have your teeth examined. You may be able to get a referral from a doctor involved in your rehabilitation program so that you can work with a dentist who understands how to diagnose and treat meth mouth.
If you have damaged your dental health already, there are treatments to improve the quality of your oral health. They may take time, and you must quit abusing meth first, or the results will not last long.
Once you have safely detoxed from meth abuse and entered a rehabilitation program, you may find that you want medical treatment for your damaged teeth. Some dentists understand meth abuse and can help you develop a treatment plan, which can involve many treatments, depending on how serious the damage to your teeth, gums, and jaw may be.
If you are missing teeth, have extensively visible cavities, or have teeth that must be removed, you will likely require aesthetic reconstruction in addition to standard treatment procedures. You can also ask about aesthetic treatments once all the foundational dental treatments have been completed.
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