You’ve probably heard the term “meth mouth” before, but how much do you know about drug use and its effects on your teeth?
Different drugs affect the body in their own ways, but many drugs do affect the mouth. Some of the most common effects include:
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth
- Gum disease
- Tooth discoloration
- Tooth loss
- Teeth grinding
The best way to avoid drug-related dental problems is to stay away from drug use altogether. The list of drugs that can affect your teeth is long, and the damage is usually permanent.
What Substances Ruin Your Teeth?
It’s common for alcohol and dental problems to go together, especially with heavy drinking. The Centers for Disease Control define that as more than eight drinks per week for women or 15 drinks per week for men.
The effects can include bleeding gums, blackened or brown teeth, tooth decay, gingivitis (infected gums), and mouth sores. Oral cancer is another risk.
Amphetamines are a class of drug that’s used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They include Adderall and Dexedrine.
Because they’re stimulant drugs, they can overstimulate the central nervous system, causing constant teeth grinding. Over time, teeth grinding wears away the enamel layer that protects your teeth.
The longer you grind your teeth from amphetamine use, the more likely you are to develop cracks, chips, or cavities.
Cocaine is a stimulant street drug. It causes some of the most severe drug-related dental problems, including:
- Acid damage, which softens the tooth’s protective enamel and leads to cavities and rot.
- Gingival lesions, or white patches covering infected ulcers on the gums. Without treatment, this can cause bone loss in the jaw and tooth loss.
- Perforation of the palate, or a permanent hole in the roof of your mouth. The hole can lead into your sinuses and cause infections.
- Teeth grinding, causing cracks and wearing of the enamel. This can also cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJ. TMJ causes lifelong pain when moving the jaw and can affect your bite’s alignment, causing additional tooth damage.
It’s very important to tell your dentist if you’ve used cocaine recently. Recent cocaine use can cause severe reactions to dental anesthesia. A cocaine-induced anesthesia reaction can be life-threatening.
Also known as molly or MDMA (short for 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), ecstasy is a stimulant street drug that’s often used at parties, clubs, and festivals. It causes feelings of extreme empathy and desire to be social, in addition to euphoria.
Like other stimulant drugs, ecstasy can overstimulate the nervous system and cause you to grind your teeth. The medical name for this symptom is bruxism. Over time, grinding your teeth causes the enamel to thin and weaken, so there’s less protection.
This leads to cavities, cracks, and over sensitivity. Hypersensitive teeth can feel painful when you eat or drink, especially items that are hot or cold.
It’s true that heroin doesn’t make you grind your teeth the way stimulant drugs do. But it can still cause severe dental damage through other means.
A study found that people who used heroin had more missing teeth and more tooth decay than people who didn’t use the drug. It also found that heroin users had less fillings, which suggested that they were less likely to get dental care.
Instead of the chemicals in heroin causing dental harm, it seems more like heroin causes lifestyle changes that hurt your ability to take care of yourself. This affects your oral hygiene and your general health too.
Cannabis doesn’t affect the teeth in quite the same way as other drugs, but it does cause a common side effect called cottonmouth.
Cottonmouth feels like your mouth is dry and parched because you have trouble producing enough saliva. This can leave your mouth more open to infections if it happens regularly.
Also, any drug that is smoked can cause gum disease and even oral cancer. This is for two reasons: first, smoking causes the tiny blood vessels in your gums to dilate, or get smaller. This harms blood flow, causing inflammation and disease.
Second, smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals called carcinogens. This is true no matter what kind of drug you’re using, even cannabis. Exposure to these chemicals can cause cancer of the tongue or the soft tissues of the mouth.
Most people have heard about “meth mouth” on TV. The drug is notorious for the fast damage that it does to users’ teeth.
The effects of meth use on your teeth include:
- Acid erosion: Meth is highly acidic, so it wears away the protective enamel layer on your teeth, leaving them susceptible to damage.
- Clenching the jaw: Over time, clenching the jaw can cause muscle pain, joint damage, and cracks in the teeth or worn enamel.
- Dry mouth: One of the side effects of meth is dry mouth, which creates a haven for infection.
- Grinding the jaw: Similar to jaw clenching, grinding causes the teeth to crack, break, and wear away prematurely.
- Gum disease: Like other stimulant drugs, meth affects the blood flow in your mouth, which can lead to gum disease, bleeding, and bone loss.
- Lifestyle changes: Using meth makes it less likely that you’ll take care of your dental hygiene and seek care when you need it.
All of these effects contribute to tooth decay, fracture, and loss. Many meth users don’t seek dental care until the damage is extreme.
Always tell your dentist if you’ve used methamphetamine recently. This drug can interact with local anesthetic, causing heart problems.
Is Smoking Bad For Your Mouth?
Even drugs that aren’t typically bad for your teeth (such as prescription drugs) can cause mouth damage if you smoke them.
That’s because smoking drugs puts your oral tissues and teeth in direct contact with acidic smoke, as well as carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals).
Some drugs that are smoked include:
Can You Fix Drug-Induced Dental Damage?
Drug-induced dental damage is permanent in the sense that if you stop using drugs, your teeth won’t heal or regenerate on their own. Your set of adult teeth is the only one that you get, which is why it’s so important to take care of them and avoid risks such as drug use.
Treatment for drug-induced dental damage depends on the type of damage and how severe it is. It can include:
- Filling cavities: Removing decayed material from a cavity and filling it with metal or ceramic prevents the decay from spreading more.
- Reconstructive treatment: Severe damage might call for reconstructive dental treatment, such as crowns, bridges, or dentures.
- Root canal: A root canal procedure can save a “dead” tooth by removing the diseased nerve without removing the tooth. This invasive procedure is an option for severe dental decay in some cases.
- Tooth removal: In many cases, dental damage is too extensive to treat without removing the tooth. After removing teeth, dentures, implants, or bridges are often an option.
Always tell your dentist if you’re using drugs at the time of treatment. Using drugs can affect anesthesia, causing dangerous reactions.
Get Treatment for Drug Addiction
Before you fix your teeth, it’s important to have a handle on your drug abuse. Untreated dependency makes it hard to take care of yourself, and that includes your teeth. Your expensive and painful dental work could be for nothing if you keep using drugs during your recovery.
It’s hard to recover from drug addiction on your own. The help of a drug treatment center can make it easier. Your recovery experience is customized to your needs, and could include:
- Inpatient or outpatient therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Group or family therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
What are you waiting for? Recovery is just a phone call away. Call today to schedule your intake appointment or get more information!
- Healthline: What does alcohol do to your teeth? <https://www.healthline.com/health/dental-and-oral-health/what-does-alcohol-do-to-your-teeth>
- Medical News Today: Uses and risks of amphetamines <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/221211.php>
- British Dental Journal: Cocaine and oral health <https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2008.244>
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: What is MDMA? <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasymolly>