An overlooked effect of methamphetamine addiction is the unsightly appearance of black or rotting teeth. Understand what meth mouth is, how it happens, and how to get help.
Dentists and toothpaste commercials always remind us to brush and floss our teeth daily. However, these dental hygiene habits are no match for a certain drug addiction that causes the destruction of one’s teeth. If you know someone who has abused methamphetamines, or if you’re going through a meth addiction problem yourself, chances are you’ve heard of the term “meth mouth”.
What Is Meth Mouth?
Perhaps you’ve come across this phrase and wondered, “What is meth mouth?”. In summary, having meth teeth means that you have the following oral conditions secondary to a amphetamine addiction:
- Tooth decay: Tooth decay is caused by cavities that cause discoloration, holes, and pain in the hard surface of one’s teeth. In the beginning, you may notice a sharp sensation of pain when eating sweet or cold food. However, if tooth decay isn’t addressed, you may notice the appearance of yellow, brown, or black areas and holes in your teeth’s enamel.
- Missing teeth: At the end stage of tooth decay, the cavities attack the root, and teeth eventually die and fall off. This often causes missing teeth for those addicted to meth.
- Gingivitis: Other oral infections may occur, such as gingivitis. Gingivitis is characterized by swelling, appearance of pus, or bleeding gums.
- Bad breath: Any infection in the oral cavity can cause halitosis or bad breath. Since bacteria lives inside an infected tooth or gum area, a person who has the mentioned oral conditions are also prone to bad breath.
- Toothache: Toothache happens spontaneously with moderate to severe tooth decay even when the person isn’t eating or drinking cold or sweet food and beverages. The pain may persist, making it difficult for some people to sleep or function with daily tasks.
If you notice these meth mouth symptoms in yourself or a loved one with suspected addiction, they may be already suffering from an oral infection.
What Causes Meth Mouth?
Why does meth ruin teeth? There are several reasons as to what causes meth mouth. It is a combination of the drug’s nature, as well as neglected hygiene practices that occur long term. Some of the common reasons why a lot of people who abuse meth end up having this condition are:
Corrosive component of methamphetamine
When you look at the substances used to make meth, you will notice that many of them are corrosive in nature. For example, people who perform do-it-yourself methods to create this drug often use Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) to help create its crystalline form. Unfortunately, HCl is a very corrosive substance that can cause damage to the body, especially the teeth, when taken for long periods.
Additionally, the chemical components of meth are highly acidic, which damages the tooth’s enamel over time.
Poor oral hygiene
People who have severe addictions often neglect daily self-care tasks such as dental hygiene. Aside from the destructive elements contained in meth, people who abuse this drug are prone to forgetting to brush their teeth, floss, or even drink water to keep their mouths clean. Others may avoid getting dental checkups to avoid suspicions of meth abuse.
As a result, cavities may spread quickly and worsen with drug use.
Loss of appetite
Did you know that loss of appetite can also lead to tooth decay? This is because people who do not eat or drink often have a condition called “dry mouth”. When the oral area isn’t frequently wet with saliva, bacteria can spread quickly, causing tooth decay, bad breath, and other dental problems.
How Meth Affects The Rest Of The Body
Meth doesn’t just damage your oral cavity, but it can also cause varying physical, mental, and behavioral problems over long-term use. The dangers of using meth cannot be emphasized enough–these risks are life-threatening and can also affect the people who surround the drug user.
- Addiction: People who may be taking meth occasionally should know that it is a highly addictive drug. They may suffer from meth tolerance with long-term use and eventually progress to a full-blown addiction, where the fatal overdose can happen.
- Memory loss: Meth use is also linked to decreased white and gray matter portions of the brain. The white and gray matter is the density of the brain cells–thus, people who abuse meth eventually lose the normal brain density, causing severe memory lapses.
- Personality changes: As meth continuously affects the brain, users are also prone to having various personality changes. The most common is disproportionate rage, also known as “meth rage”, where bouts of anger and violence can occur. These symptoms can affect their relationships with others as well.
- Paranoia: Another trait of long-term meth abuse is paranoia. They may experience delusions, hallucinations, and other forms of irrational thinking that can affect their daily lives.
- Weight loss: The loss of interest in other activities when someone is going through an addiction also brings them to lose pleasure in eating. Thus, extreme weight loss can happen as well as the negative consequences of malnutrition.
- Organ failure: The liver, heart, and lungs are all affected when one smokes, snorts, or injects meth. Meth use has been linked to acute liver failure, heart disease, and respiratory problems. Since this drug is a stimulant and contains many toxins, a person who uses meth for years on end may end up having liver, heart, or lung diseases.
Treatment For Meth Mouth
Now that we have understood the devastating effects of meth on one’s dental and overall health, you may be looking for information on where to find meth mouth treatment.
The truth is, meth mouth is a symptom of an underlying addiction to the drug. If you only address your dental hygiene while the abuse of meth persists, you will still end up having poor oral conditions no matter what.
The first step to finding a cure for meth mouth is to treat the addiction itself. When the meth addiction is addressed, there will be no exposure to the chemicals that damage one’s teeth. The second step is to get the dental treatments needed to fix tooth decay, missing teeth, bad breath, and swollen gums. Here is a definitive guide in treating meth mouth:
Step 1: Find a meth rehab
You will want to find a rehab facility that has various detox and treatment programs that can cater to your needs. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating meth addiction. But more than the aesthetics and comfort of getting rid of oral problems related to meth abuse, you can also find freedom from the addictions that control your life.
Step 2: Address dental problems
During the inpatient phase of your rehab, you can also open up about your oral condition concerns. Your rehab facility may refer you to a dental clinic nearby, or have an in-house hygienist who can assess and manage your dental problems. Some of the treatments you can expect are the following:
- Dental cleaning and plaque removal
- Tooth extraction
- Installment of dental crowns
- Root canal
- Installment of teeth jackets
Step 3: Following aftercare instructions for dental hygiene and addiction recovery
The last step is mostly maintenance after addiction recovery and dental treatment. It is important to follow dental instructions to keep your mouth healthy and clean during the addiction recovery period.
It is also equally essential to follow the aftercare program given to you by the addiction and healthcare specialists. This is to avoid having a meth relapse, bringing you back to square one of the dental and health problems related to drug addiction.
More Than Just A Dental Problem
If you or a loved one has a meth mouth issue, it should be a realization by now that it isn’t just a dental problem–by addressing the drug addiction, you are cutting out the problem from its roots. In addition, being addiction-free means, you are one step closer to having a healthier mouth.
- Mayoclinic.org – “Cavities / Tooth Decay”.
- Crest.com – “What Is Gingivitis? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments”.
- Americanchemistry.com – “Hydrochloric Acid-HCl-An Acid With Many Uses”.
- Mayoclinic.org – “Dry mouth – Symptoms, and causes”.
- Europepmc.org – “Acute liver failure following intravenous methamphetamine”.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.