Methamphetamine or Meth is an illicit drug which has severe effects on the oral health and well-being of the user.
Some of the health consequences include heart stroke and permanent brain damage.
A survey on drug use and health revealed that about 5.4% of Americans especially twelve-year-olds have used meth in their life.
Meth mouth or meth teeth is a serious dental condition that is caused by chronic methamphetamine addiction. Meth is an acidic drug, and it worsens the symptoms with continued use.
The characteristic features of meth mouth include black stained teeth, dental caries, and periodontal disease which eventually cause loss of a tooth.
In today’s article, we will read about the effects of meth on teeth and oral hygiene and explore some of the treatment option to correct meth teeth.
What is meth addiction?
Meth is a short form for methamphetamine. It is also known as speed, glass, ice, and crystal. Meth is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken in the form of a pill. (1)
A person usually gets addicted to meth due to the feeling of intense pleasure caused in the brain. This process can last up to 12 hours.
Such long periods are the root cause of poor oral hygiene. Moreover, meth users crave for high-calorie sugary food or carbonated drinks, which initiated the process of tooth decay.
Meth also affects the health and well-being of the user. Some of the symptoms may include –
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Paranoia and confusion
How does meth affect your teeth?
Methamphetamine works by the mechanism of vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction is a process that causes shrinkage of blood vessels.
In turn, the blood supply to the mouth decreases. As a result, oral tissues start to decay quickly. As this process continues, teeth and gums begin to lose their integrity. (2)
Dry mouth is another way by which meth causes tooth decay. Reduced salivary flow allows the acidic drug to stay in contact with the teeth for a long time.
This acid erodes the layer of enamel and damages the gums.
Specific components of meth like anhydrous ammonia, red phosphorus, and lithium deteriorate the surface of the tooth and cause tooth decay.
Recent studies have shown that users who snort meth experience worse symptoms of tooth decay and periodontal breakdown as compared to users who smoke meth.
What are the signs and symptoms of meth teeth?
The severity of meth teeth may depend on the amount and frequency of drug abuse. Usually, heavy meth abusers may experience the following typical symptoms –
Characteristic signs of meth teeth include –
- Loose teeth
- Fractured teeth
- Black stained teeth
- Rusting and crumbling appearance of the tooth surface
- Yellow coat on the surface of the tooth
What are the treatments for meth teeth?
Dental treatments have proved to minimize the symptoms, but a definite cure for meth teeth is rare. Most of the meth users experience severe tooth damage that is beyond repair. (3)
Often a dental treatment involves full mouth tooth extractions and replacement of the teeth using a complete denture.
Meth users usually tend to discontinue dental procedures which further worsens their oral health.
Typically, a dental procedure should be performed after at least 24 hours of last meth use.
This protocol is followed to allow proper pain management with acetaminophen or ibuprofen without interfering with the meth in the system.
The success of dental treatment spikes high once the patient stops the use of methamphetamine. Full results of healthy mouth and body can be seen after detoxification and rehabilitation of meth users. (4)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration is a free information service in the United States that refers to meth users to a local treatment facility to overcome the addiction.
A combination of medical and behavioral therapy can help motivated meth users to overcome their addiction and lead a healthy life.
What are the preventive measures that you can take?
Once a tooth becomes mobile, there is no way to save it. But there are specific preventive measures that you can take to stop the condition from worsening.
- The first step towards a healthy mouth begins by maintaining good oral hygiene. Brush regularly at least two times a day
- Avoid eating sugary food or carbonated drinks
- Fix a dental appointment with your dentist. Explain your condition in detail and ask for expected outcomes. Make a list of questions that you want to ask the dentist for improvement of your oral health.
- If any loose teeth are bothering you, try to get it removed by a dental professional. Go for restorative therapies if feasible.
- Ask the dentist to recommend mouth guards if you have a habit of grinding teeth.
Take away message
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug which is commonly used to treat ADHD which stands for Attention Deficit/Hypersensitivity Disorder. (5)
Meth is a highly addictive and dangerous drug. Often the patients continue to use it even after completion of their treatment.
The main reason for drug abuse is the feeling of intense pleasure caused in the brain. This high remains active for as long as twelve hours.
Meth addiction comes with serious health hazards. Meth constricts the blood vessels and stops the flow of blood to various parts of the body including the mouth.
Therefore, some of the severe symptoms include dry mouth, periodontal breakdown, permanent brain damage, and heart stroke.
Although there is no definite dental cure to save the damaged teeth, stoppage of meth use may contribute to improving the oral health of the patient.
Addiction counselors and local treatment facilities can help to rehabilitate the patient and detoxify their system to lead a sober life.