Under the influence: your teeth on drugs

You already know that drug abuse is bad for your health. From heart problems to cancer, street drugs can cause serious health risks, if not death. But did you know that drugs can harm your teeth as well? Here’s a look at the dangers six substances pose to your oral health.

Methamphetamine

Also known as “meth” or “crystal meth,” this drug is one of the top most destructive substances for your mouth. The effects of methamphetamine are so extreme that users are often identified by “meth mouth,” in which the teeth along the cheeks are severely decayed. They may be worn down to the gums or black with decay.

Both the components of the drug and the behavior it induces in the user are responsible for this rapid rotting of the teeth. Made of highly acidic ingredients, meth softens tooth enamel and can wear it down within weeks. The drug also increases anxiety levels, which can cause users to grind their teeth, speeding up erosion. Another physical effect of the drug is severe dry mouth, which promotes bacteria growth and worsens decay. Finally, meth users are less likely to brush and floss when high and more likely to experience cravings to binge on sugar and soda.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Known by the names “Molly” and “E,” this drug doesn’t just cause hallucinations. It also results in dry mouth in up to 99% of users, and this dryness can last up to two days after use. The higher the dose of the drug, the more severe the dry mouth. This condition not only increases a person’s chance of developing cavities, it is also linked to gum disease. Users of ecstasy may load up on soda and other sugary drinks to compensate, only worsening the effects of decay.

Another serious side effect of the drug is bruxism, the technical term for tooth grinding and clenching. Reported in 50 to 89% of its users, this behavior wears down the teeth and can worsen jaw pain.

Marijuana

Linked to dry mouth, this psychoactive herb can increase your risk of cavities and gum disease. Like cigarettes, smoking marijuana can contribute to oral cancer and gum disease, as it cuts off blood flow in the mouth. In fact, heavy users may be 60% more likely to have gum disease than those who don’t smoke marijuana, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cocaine

Cocaine mixes with saliva to form an acidic substance that can wear down teeth, dissolving enamel and destroying tooth restorations. Frequent use of cocaine damages the palate, making it hard to speak, eat and drink.

Users may rub the drug on their gums, causing mouth ulcers and damage to the jaw bone. Other oral health problems include bruxism (tooth grinding), which may lead to jaw and muscle pain in the temporomandibular joint, and dry mouth.

What’s more, visiting the dentist while high is a dangerous idea. Cocaine increases the risk of heart complications when combined with local anesthetics.

Heroin

Heroin is an opiate drug linked to severe dental problems. It increases cravings for sweet foods, a recipe for decay, since the drug also dries out the mouth. Another effect is tooth grinding, which wears down the enamel. Heroin users are also more likely to experience gum disease, oral fungus, oral viral infections and discoloration of the tongue. A 2012 study published the Journal of the American Dental Association found that the pattern of decay known as “meth mouth” was characteristic of intravenous heroin users as well.

Seek professional help

If you or someone you know has an addiction, talk with a doctor to find an appropriate treatment program. Establishing an honest relationship with your dentist can pave the way for recovery from the addiction and to restoration of oral health.

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Published: December 2016

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.

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