National Children’s Dental Health Month: Saving Your Smile

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. The American Dental Association promotes it with the goal of instilling a lifetime of good oral health habits.

Every year has a theme and for 2020, it’s celebrating the 75th anniversary of fluoridation. Drinking water with fluoride produces fewer and less severe cavities, less tooth decay, a reduced need for dental fillings, and lower tooth loss rates.

What’s not so good for teeth? Addictive drugs.

A lack of proper dental hygiene paired drug abuse often can make a mess of mouths.

Dentists are often in the habit of prescribing narcotic pain medications — especially after wisdom teeth removal or root canals (though that is changing in light of the opioid epidemic). In 2011 the Journal of the American Dental Association said dentists prescribed 12 percent of immediate-release opioids in the United States.

Now, more careful patient screenings and pain management alternatives — such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen — are more frequently recommended.

Especially troubling is that prescription medications are most abused among children ages 12-13. It should be noted, that this number doesn’t just include what dentists prescribe, but also medicines such as ADHD drugs, stimulants, and benzodiazepines (benzos) that treat conditions such as anxiety, seizures, and insomnia.

Drug abuse exacts many costs, including on oral health. Resulting problems may include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Periodontal (gum) diseases such as gingivitis
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Infections
  • Bruxism (grinding or gnashing of teeth)
  • Tooth erosion
  • Tooth loss

Sometimes declining oral health is due to simple neglect. Drug abusers may simply not bother with the “two minutes twice a day” tooth brushing habit the American Dental Association encourages everyone to practice.

Certain drugs can cause specific health concerns.

Opioids can lead to tooth loss and decay. Dry mouth, burning mouth, impaired taste, trouble eating, gum disease, and infections can result from abuse.

Cannabis misuse can lead to a greater likelihood of oral cancer, along with dry mouth and periodontitis, which is inflammation of the gums and tooth structures that can lead to bone and tooth damage.

Stimulants such as methamphetamine (meth), cocaine, and amphetamine can cause a host of problems. Worst-case scenarios for cocaine abuse include septal perforation, or a hole in the septum, the area between the nostrils.

Cocaine abuse can also wreck one’s sense of smell and lead to chronic sinusitis. Cocaine can also change the pH of saliva and produce tooth erosion.

Both cocaine and methamphetamine users may grind their teeth (bruxism), develop dry mouths, and experience crumbling tooth decay colloquially known as meth mouth.

Many other drugs can cause dry mouth and bruxism, including hallucinogens or club drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy) and GHB.

Methadone can be problematic too. While it can help a person manage an opioid addiction, it also can negatively impact dental health. Sometimes it is dosed in a sugary syrup to mask its bitter taste, and some users may hold it in their mouths for a long time to slow the absorption rate.

Proper dosing at a methadone clinic, where intake is monitored and professionals can administer a sugar-free option, is a safer alternative.

There are both good and bad habits. Good practices involve brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and visiting a dentist regularly for checkups.

Addiction is a bad habit that can mess with your mind, your mouth, and your body. If you think you may have a problem, help is out there.

 

Sources

ada.org – ADA Asks Dentists to Enlist in Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse
ada.org – National Children’s Dental Health Month to Celebrate Water Fluoridation in 2020
mouthhealthy.org – Opioids
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Oral Health of Drug Abusers: A Review of Health Effects and Care
uky.edu – Prevention of Prescription Opioid Abuse
cdc.gov – Water Fluoridation Basics