Methamphetamine, or meth, is a highly addictive drug. Some people snort or eat the drug in its natural powder form. Others cook the powder into an injectable liquid or a smokeable rock form known as “crystal meth.”
As a stimulant, meth causes a surge of energy and euphoria (intense joy). However, it can also cause physical and mental health problems like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, paranoia, aggression, addiction, and permanent brain damage.
Many struggling with methamphetamine use also experience poor oral health, or “meth mouth.”
What Is Meth Mouth?
The term “meth mouth” refers to dental health problems often caused by meth. These problems include:
- severe tooth decay, a disease that destroys a tooth’s protective outer layer (enamel) and leaves it vulnerable to cavities
- gum disease, an infection that damages the tissue holding the teeth in place
- stained, blackened, rotting, broken, or missing teeth (also called “meth teeth”)
According to an American Dental Association (ADA) study of 571 meth users, 96% had cavities, 58% had untreated tooth decay, and 31% had six or more missing teeth.
Effects Of Meth Mouth
In the early stages of meth mouth, a person may experience mild-to-moderate oral health issues like:
- bad breath
- microcavities, which are small lesions on the teeth that serve as an early sign of tooth decay
- red, swollen gums
As time goes on, a person will start developing cavities and face serious problems such as:
- sores on the mouth or gums (also called “meth mouth sores”)
- pain in the jaw muscles and/or joints
- difficulty chewing
- bleeding gums
- receding gums (gums that pull away from the teeth)
- tetanus (or “lockjaw”), an infection that makes it difficult to open the mouth
- teeth that are loose, cracked, or falling out
What Causes Meth Mouth?
The most common causes of meth mouth are:
Poor Oral Hygiene
While high on meth, people tend to have poor oral hygiene habits. For example, they may forget to brush their teeth, floss, and attend dentist appointments.
This behavior allows a sticky film of bacteria called plaque to form on the teeth. When left untreated, plaque hardens into tartar, a substance that can only be removed by a dental professional. Both plaque and tartar increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.
Meth users often crave lots of high-calorie, sugary foods and drinks. Sugar contributes to tooth decay by attracting bacteria to the teeth. Bacteria causes plaque and tartar.
In addition, meth can decrease appetite, meaning users may miss out on important nutrients that help heal dental problems like gum disease.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common side effect of meth use. That’s because the drug dries out the salivary glands, which produce saliva. Saliva helps protect your teeth by washing away bacteria and food debris. Without it, you’re much more likely to experience dental health issues.
Another potential side effect of meth is bruxism, or teeth grinding. Over time, this behavior can cause teeth to chip, break, or fall out.
Meth is acidic. Acid destroys a tooth’s enamel, increasing the risk of cavities.
Moreover, meth often contains harsh chemicals, such as drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze. These substances can severely damage your teeth and mouth.
Symptoms Of Meth Mouth
If you’re not sure whether someone you know has meth mouth, watch for these signs:
- refusing to eat or only eating soft foods (as meth mouth can make eating painful or difficult)
- refusing to smile
- not attending dentist appointments
The person may also display other signs of meth addiction, such as mood swings, dramatic weight loss, and poor hygiene.
Meth Mouth Treatment Options
A person with meth mouth will need professional dental treatment. The dentist will carefully examine the individual’s mouth and create a personalized treatment plan, which may include:
- fillings to treat tooth decay
- mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding
- veneers (thin coverings that resemble natural teeth) to improve the appearance of chipped or stained teeth
- dental implants or dentures to replace missing teeth
- surgery to restore tissue damaged by gum disease
- extractions to remove severely damaged teeth that can’t be restored
To prevent future cases of meth mouth, the person should also attend a substance abuse treatment program. Such programs offer services like supervised medical detox, behavioral therapy, and peer support groups to help people recover from meth addiction.
To learn more about treatment options for meth abuse and addiction, please reach out to an ARK Behavioral Health specialist today.