Oral Health Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse

March 21, 2019

The rising rates of drug addiction in the US are well known. With local news stations taking a hard look at our country’s epidemic, Americans are more aware than ever. All too often we hear heartbreaking stories of loved ones struggling with addiction.  Drug addiction has debilitating effects on families, communities and individuals. As dental professionals, we are trained to look for oral signs of drug abuse. It is a difficult but necessary conversation to have.  Our patient’s overall health is our main concern. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, please share the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline with them.

Methamphetamine is a dangerously addictive drug that can cause severe health consequences. This month we are focusing on the specific oral health effects of Methamphetamine (Meth) abuse. It is estimated that 25 million individuals around the world use Meth. Between 2008 and 2014 meth use doubled. Worldwide, as many as 52 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 are estimated to have used amphetamine-type stimulants for nonmedical purposes. Meth is the second most used recreational drug; following cannabis.   

Individuals suffering from long term Meth addiction commonly have severe tooth decay (meth mouth). The teeth of long term users are often blackened, stained, decaying and falling apart. It is estimated that 96% of frequent meth users have cavities and 58% have untreated tooth decay. The causes of such decay are most commonly dry mouth (xerostomia) and long periods of poor oral hygiene. Meth’s chemical makeup is highly acidic, lowering the pH of the oral cavity. Dry mouth in any form is a big risk factor for cavities.  If proper care is not taken to counteract the effects of dry mouth, decay will progress quickly. When a patient has decided to begin recovery there are ways to restore their teeth. Beginning with adding a high concentration source of sodium fluoride is crucial. This fluoride will prevent new decay from starting, as we are restoring existing cavities.

Some recovering meth addicts may not be able to completely restore their teeth financially.  In this case, Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) may be the best alternative. SDF is applied topically and is approved for use as a desensitizing agent. The extra benefit to SDF is that it has also been shown to arrest dental caries. In conjunction with regular sodium fluoride use, we can develop a short term plan to control rampant tooth decay. Once you’ve established care our dentist and hygienist we will develop an individualized treatment plan based on your needs and desires. With extensive treatment needed in most cases restoring your oral health can be a long road, but we are here to help guide you through this journey.

Lifestyle habits also can contribute to the progression of tooth decay as well. Tobacco use is common in those abusing recreational drugs. If you need help with tobacco cessation, we have the resources to help.  We will also have a discussion about your dietary habits and how they affect your oral health. A common side effect of Meth use is an insatiable craving for sugary drinks. This is another risk factor, as high sugar diets can accelerate cavities as well. There is no one size fits all model here, and we will help you with any and all modifiable risk factors to reduce your risk for future cavities.

We know that the result of rampant decay can leave many feeling self-conscious about their teeth, but we are always here to help. We offer no judgments in a comfortable environment and are only looking to provide you with the best oral health care possible. If you or someone you know is ready to restore their smile on their road to recovery, we would love to help. As we stated earlier, please share the National Hotline with anyone you think may benefit from it!

 

Resources:

Mouth Healthy:

https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth

ADA:

https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_55.ashx

Dimensions of Dental Hygiene Journal:

https://dimensionsofdentalhygiene.com/article/Caring-for-Patients-Who-Abuse-Methamphetamine/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 


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