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How to Reverse “Meth Mouth”

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.

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How Meth Mouth Develops

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. 

  • Poor oral hygiene: People who struggle with drug addiction, regardless of the substance, may develop hygiene problems because they focus more on acquiring and consuming drugs than they do on keeping themselves healthy and clean. People who abuse meth are also more likely to experience psychotic breaks from reality and to go on binges in which they do not eat, sleep, or perform other normal activities like bathing for several days. This means they are also not likely to brush their teeth
  • Chronic dry mouth and high acidity: Everyone experiences occasional dry mouth, from not drinking enough water, being in a dry environment, or another health-related reason. However, when there is consistently not enough saliva in the mouth, it is difficult for the oral flora to stay in balance. Bacteria may flourish and begin to damage the enamel on the teeth.

    Additionally, meth itself is slightly acidic. Constant exposure to the substance means that higher acidity can damage the teeth
  • Eating too much sugar: People who are stimulated by meth tend to crave high-calorie, sugar-packed snacks and beverages. They are more likely to drink carbonated sodas that are high in sugar. Consumption of sugary foods increases the risk of damage to dental hygiene and health
  • Abusing multiple drugs: Typically, people who abuse meth do not just consume it alone. Instead, it is one of several drugs the individual may abuse, with secondary or tertiary drugs managing side effects from meth abuse. The most common drugs abused alongside meth are alcohol and cigarettes, which both increase the risk of damage to the teeth and gums
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding: The biggest risks leading to damaged teeth are tight clenching of the jaw and repeated grinding of the teeth, which people in active meth addiction experience. Meth increases stimulation, including physical stimulation and anxiety, which may lead to clenching various muscles and performing repetitive behaviors. 

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.

The First Step to Fixing Meth Mouth: Quitting Meth

quitting meth

A survey in 2015 conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that of 571 people who struggled with meth abuse:

  • 96 percent had cavities
  • 58 percent had untreated tooth decay
  • 31 percent had six or more missing teeth

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.

Dental Treatments Can Return Your Oral Hygiene to Normal After Meth Detox

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.

Some of the steps your dentist may take when you get help fixing meth mouth include:

  • A full exam with X-rays to understand the extent of tooth, root, gum, and jaw damage
  • Development of a plan to clean teeth and fill cavities
  • Topical fluorides to prevent further decay
  • Pulling damaged teeth
  • Referrals to endodontists and periodontists who can perform root canals and fit the jaw for replacement teeth
  • Creating veneers, dental bridges, or dentures to replace teeth that are damaged or missing
  • Developing an at-home oral hygiene routine
  • Creating a calendar for when treatments and checkups will occur

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.

Sources

(October 29, 2013). Methamphetamine. Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR). Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

(September 2013). What are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Use? National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-abuse

(October 26, 2017). Oral Health Topics: Methamphetamine. American Dental Association (ADA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/methamphetamine

(October 2005). Methamphetamine Use and Oral Health. American Dental Association (ADA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_55.ashx

Colgate. (n.d.) What Are Cavities. Retrieved from https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/conditions/cavities/what-are-cavities

Meth Mouth: How Methamphetamine Use Affects Dental Health. MouthHealthy.org, the American Dental Association (ADA). Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth

(November 2014). Comprehensive Dental Treatment for “Meth Mouth”: A Case Report and Literature Review. Journal of the Formosan Medical Association. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25443354

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