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The use of methamphetamines causes many health problems, including damage to the teeth and gums. As a result of the strong association of meth and dental damage, this condition is often referred to as “crank decay,” or “meth mouth.”
Meth mouth refers to poor dental health and tooth decay that occurs with addiction to methamphetamines. It is one of the most obvious physical changes that happen when people abuse meth.
According to the American Dental Association, meth mouth is characterized by severe tooth decay and gum disease, which often causes teeth to fall out or break. People who use meth for extended periods may have rotted, blackened, and crumbling teeth. This condition is likely due to damage from dry mouth and also long periods of poor oral hygiene.
Due to the characteristic dental damage in meth users, you can often spot them as soon as they open their mouths. Even though the damage tends to occur in chronic users, it can also happen within a few months.
Before we talk more about meth mouth, let us talk a little bit about methamphetamines.
What is Meth?
Meth is a powerful and extremely addictive stimulant. It is sold mostly as a pill, white powder or crystals. This substance has many street names. Some of the common names are crystal meth, ice, and speed.
Meth is predominantly consumed by smoking, snorting, swallowing, or injecting. This drug is widespread, as it is quite easy to obtain. The reason for this is because of the ease of manufacturing it. People make meth in their homes with substances bought from pharmacies and grocery shops.
Crystal meth is similar to amphetamines – prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. While such amphetamines are legal prescriptions, crystal meth is illegal.
Users of meth report feeling a sudden “rush” of pleasure and a prolonged sense of increased well-being. They also experience increased confidence, more energy, improved focus, sexual prowess, and feelings of desirability. Interestingly, the pleasurable effects of meth seem to disappear over time. This lack of pleasure applies not only to meth but also to other sources of pleasure.
The loss of pleasure from meth occurs even with high blood concentrations of meth. As a result, individuals take more and more to get the same effect. This increase in use is known as tolerance. Meth users have been known to forego sleep and food while they binge for several days.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Mouth
The damage to the teeth and mouth from using ice are from the effects of the drug itself and also lifestyle factors. This condition usually develops within a year of using crystal meth. It can, however, occur within a few months.
The severity of this condition differs from one person to the next. Many people end up with severe damage to their teeth and gum. On the other hand, quite a few people may only suffer from mild dental damage. Even though the severity may differ, damage to the mouth inevitably happens with the chronic use of this drug.
Meth mouth usually presents as:
- Cracked, loose, or missing teeth
- Black rotting teeth
- Dental cavities
- Sensitive teeth
- Bad breath
- Gum disease
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
- Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism)
Meth mouth seems to be worse the longer people use ice, and the older they are. Loss of teeth can be so bad that some people are left with less than half of their total count. Also, studies show that female methamphetamine users have higher rates of tooth loss and cavities than males. In addition, women also have a higher rate of tooth decay in the front teeth.
Causes of Meth Mouth
A few reasons meth causes such damage to the teeth are:
- The corrosive chemicals in ice erode the protective lining of teeth. Meth has been found to contain chemicals like red phosphorus (from matchboxes), lithium (from batteries), and anhydrous ammonia (from fertilizers). Other additives include antifreeze, lantern fuel, drain cleaner, and hydrochloric acid.
- Meth is an acidic drug that causes the salivary glands to dry out. This drying effect is, perhaps, due to meth’s dehydrating property. Saliva usually prevents acids from eating away at the teeth. Thus, in the absence of saliva, the acids in the mouth eat away at the enamel of teeth, causing damage.
- Shrinking of the blood vessels to the mouth can occur with meth use. This decrease in blood supply to the mouth causes problems with the teeth and gums.
- Crystal meth can cause grinding of the teeth (called bruxism), hence creating further damage. This drug can also cause anxiety and nervousness, which worsens teeth grinding and clenching.
- Meth intensifies cravings for sugary foods and drinks. These can, on their own, cause significant damage to the teeth.
- Poor diet leads to deficiencies in nutrients that can help the body repair itself. Hence, poor healing of lesions and abscesses that develop in the mouth.
- Heavy users of ice sometimes neglect their hygiene. Irregular brushing and flossing have negative consequences on the overall health of their teeth and gums.
Did you know that the method of ingestion also contributes to meth mouth? The Journal of Periodontology reports that people who snort meth have worse tooth decay than individuals who smoke or inject the drug.
Factors that can make Meth Mouth Worse
Some conditions can make meth mouth worse. These factors include:
- Using large amounts of meth
- Female sex
- Older age (especially 30 years and older)
- Cigarette smoking
According to the American Dental Association, a study involving 571 methamphetamine users showed:
- 96% had cavities
- 58% had untreated tooth decay
- 40% admitted to being embarrassed about their dental appearance
- 31% had six or more missing teeth
- 23% had all of their natural teeth
- 6% of older meth users had fewer than ten teeth
Prevention of Meth Mouth
The best prevention of this condition is by avoiding methamphetamine. Of course, this is rather obvious. If you stay away from this drug, meth mouth should not be an issue. It seems inevitable that you will eventually develop this disorder if you use this illicit substance. It is only a matter of time before your dentition begins to show signs of damage.
Having stated the obvious, we know addiction is a disease that can be hard to treat. For those still working on becoming sober, it is vital to take a few steps to minimize the effects of methamphetamines on your teeth and gums.
Steps to minimize damage to the teeth and gums
- Increase the amount of water you drink. Drinking lots of water helps with rehydrating your body. Crystal meth dehydrates the body and dries up the salivary gland. Saliva helps to neutralize the acid in the mouth, thus protecting the teeth. Consuming lots of water will help with the flow of saliva, therefore, protecting your teeth.
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly. A study done in China amongst meth users showed that those who brushed their teeth at least twice per day had a lower rate of decay.
- Antibacterial mouth wash helps slow down the growth of bacteria in your mouth. Using mouth wash one to two times a day will go a long way in slowing down the process of dental decay.
- Avoid sugary drinks and processed foods high in sugar. Sodas, cookies, candies, and other sweets seem to form a staple for some methamphetamine users. Unfortunately, sugar aids damage to your teeth and gums.
- Use a mouthguard at night. Some people have teeth grinding, which occurs at night when they sleep. When you use meth, your teeth are far more fragile, and grinding at night is likely to cause damage more quickly. A protective mouthguard will slow down this process. In addition, meth causes bruxism – teeth grinding and clenching. This condition may be hard to stop, but sugar-free gum can help with this.
- See your dentist at least twice a year. Regular dental checks can help with treating gum infections and filling up cavities as they occur. These checks will help to slow down the progression of this condition.
These above points are by no means completely protective. Again, the goal is to stop using ice, but taking the above precautions will help your teeth and gums to an extent.
Treatment of Meth Mouth
The first step to treating this condition is getting help with methamphetamine addiction. Treatment involves detoxification, inpatient or outpatient rehab, therapy, and ongoing support.
There are no FDA approved medications for treating crystal meth addiction. In the proper setting, however, “comfort medications” may be prescribed to ease the process of withdrawal. Some studies have shown some medications to be helpful in crystal meth treatment, but the evidence is not robust. Though uncomfortable, withdrawal from meth is not life-threatening.Behavioral therapies are currently the most effective treatments for addiction to meth. Such therapies include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement, and contingency-management interventions.Click To Tweet
In addition to the above, it is essential to treat underlying mental health disorders. The importance of this should never be underplayed. Treatment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and other mental conditions must be considered. It is well known that many individuals self-medicate with drugs.
After addressing the meth addiction, a follow up with a dentist is paramount. There is no reversal for the effects of ice on the teeth. This reason makes it essential to stop using ice before any dental intervention. Besides, most dentists will not treat active meth users – no surprise, as continuous use will only damage the teeth further.
Treatment depends on the level of damage to the teeth and gums. Teeth extractions, implants, or even dentures may be needed. Very severe damage may call for a full-mouth teeth extraction. On the other hand, a mild dental injury may only require a few fillings and crowns.
Due to the extensive damage to the mouth from crystal meth, dental work can be costly. The repair procedures may also need to be done in stages and may take several months or even years to fix.
Because of the inflammation and decay, you may need pain management. If this is the case, it is advisable to stick with non-addictive pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Opioids can very quickly lead to another addiction.
Methamphetamines have many adverse effects on the body. Meth mouth is one of such conditions. It refers to the poor dental health and tooth decay that occurs with addiction to crystal meth.
The damage to the teeth and mouth from using methamphetamines are from the drug itself, and the lifestyle of users. The presentation includes black rotting teeth, cracked or missing teeth, bad breath, and gum disease.
There are quite a few reasons such damage to the mouth occurs. Meth is acidic and has corrosive chemicals that cause the teeth to rot. This drug also dries out the salivary glands. Saliva is vital to the overall health of the mouth. In addition to helping with taste, saliva also keeps your teeth from rotting.
Crystal meth causes shrinking of the blood vessels to the mouth. Consequently, the blood flow decreases, leading to damage. Grinding is prevalent in people who use this drug. There are also cravings for sugary foods and drinks in meth users. The high sugar in the mouth, with the poor diet in meth users, makes it hard for the body to heal itself properly. Furthermore, many methamphetamine users ignore their dental hygiene and do not brush or floss regularly.
The first step to treating meth mouth is getting help with meth addiction. Afterward, following up with a dentist is essential. There is no reversal for the effects of meth on the teeth. Treatment involves fillings, teeth extractions, gum treatments, crowns, dentures, dental implants, and other therapeutic measures.
Do you want your smile back? Get help with your meth addiction and follow up with a good dentist. Leave your comments below and share this article with others who may benefit from it.