The war on drugs has primarily focused on managing the sheer volume of fentanyl and other opioid overdoses our country has been facing in the past several years. Although it’s warranted, one drug that has risen in popularity in the past several years is meth. Meth is made in clandestine labs in massive quantities and shipped across the border into the United States.
Today’s meth is nothing like the “biker meth” of the past. Author Sam Quinones delved deeply into the topic and describes how it’s different chemically from a decade ago. “I don’t even know that I would call it meth anymore.” The drug is dangerous – meth affects your teeth, causing something called meth mouth and other risks.
Unfortunately, the rise of illicit meth use across the country is causing an array of mental health issues. When individuals aren’t in their right mind, they start letting themselves go physically, which can lead to meth mouth and other risks. According to Pew Research, methamphetamine use and overdose deaths soared between 2015 and 2019, highlighting the need for improved responses to a worsening public health issue. Arrests for meth possession increased 59 percent during that period, and the number of those with a methamphetamine-related substance use disorder (SUD) rose 37 percent. Overdose deaths more than doubled.
This page will explain the infamous “meth mouth,” and the devastating effects meth can have on your teeth and other parts of the body.
What Is Meth Mouth and What Does It Look Like?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says methamphetamine is an extremely powerful, highly addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It appears as a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that dissolves in water or alcohol. The drug is often smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Each route of administration comes with its risks. Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant, meaning it’s legally available only through a non-refillable prescription. It’s commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is a beneficial medication when used as prescribed. The danger comes from misuse and abuse, and meth mouth is one of those adverse side effects you can experience.
According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, illicit meth produces a high that lasting up to 12 hours. Extreme tooth decay is one of the most common signs of meth abuse, where the name meth mouth originates. It’s common to see black or stained rotting teeth in meth users. Not only is it unsightly, but poor oral health is also associated with other potentially fatal chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Most teeth in this state cannot be saved. There are various factors of meth use that cause such devastation to your oral health, such as:
- Because meth intoxication lasts 12 hours or more, users often crave sugary substances like soda during that time. Coupling that with a person who neglects their oral health and doesn’t brush or floss, they’re almost guaranteed to develop meth mouth.
- As a stimulant, one side effect of meth use is teeth grinding. When a person continuously clenches and grinds their teeth, it will cause severe wear on the dentition.
- Meth use causes xerostomia, a condition where the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep it wet.
- When the individual does not brush or floss their teeth for several days, it can lead to dental disease.
- Meth is acidic, which is damaging to our teeth. Some common and dangerous ingredients include fertilizers, battery acid, and other household cleaning agents.
Some of the common symptoms of meth mouth include:
- Dry mouth
- Cracked teeth
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Deferred pain
Meth can also damage your appearance in other ways. It can lead to dangerous weight loss that makes you look too thin, cause you to develop skin sores due to picking and scratching, and cause dull skin or acne. The drug can also cause strokes due to the blood vessel damage it causes. It can also cause liver damage because of the chemicals used to make the substance, an increased body temperature that leads to brain damage, and a weakened immune system. Meth use can also lead to overdose and death.
What Are the Stages of Meth Mouth?
According to a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, meth is devastating for your dental health. Meth mouth is characterized by gum disease and severe tooth decay that causes teeth to break or fall out. The study conducted exams on 571 meth users and found the following information:
- 96 percent had at least one cavity
- 58 percent had untreated tooth decay
- 31 percent were missing six or more teeth
The teeth of those addicted to meth are described as stained, blackened, rotting, crumbling, and falling apart. Meth mouth is so severe that teeth often cannot be salvaged or repaired – they must be removed. A combination of drug-induced psychological changes due to dry mouth and periods of poor oral hygiene typically causes tooth decay. Since meth is acidic, the more someone uses it, the worse their tooth decay. Meth users over age 30 were more likely to have tooth decay than cigarette smokers.
It begs the question – what are the stages of meth mouth? Can a user stop the progression?
- Stage 1: At this stage, users will show signs of cavities, have persistent bad breath, and their gum tissue will appear red and swollen. At this point, if a user stops taking the drug, they can repair most of the damage.
- Stage 2: Stage two progression is a lot more severe. Here, lesions could be present on the lips, gum tissues will start to recede, and tooth cavities are getting worse. If you were to seek professional addiction treatment for your meth use, you could still reverse some of the damage and save the remaining teeth.
- Stage 3: The third stage of meth mouth is the most severe. At this point, teeth have decayed down to the gum line, teeth will be missing, and dental lesions will be more apparent. The best choice you can make is to seek treatment for your meth addiction, but you will likely have to manage the damage you’ve sustained due to the meth mouth.
Can Meth Mouth Be Treated?
Meth is a dangerously addictive drug, and an estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population has tried it at least once. Meth use has become more widespread throughout the United States because of the production south of our border that’s flooding the country with affordable, potent meth. The substance produces many side effects, and meth mouth is just one that requires our attention. In many cases, the teeth affected by meth mouth need to be removed. Dental procedures may only be able to correct some of the issues caused by the side effect.
When oral symptoms of meth mouth appear, the damage is typically at a point where it’s irreversible. Dentists cannot reverse or even repair the level of corrosion and tooth decay found in meth users. Recovering addicts typically opt for cosmetic dental treatment to improve their confidence and smiles.
Dentists will typically try to extract remaining teeth that are decayed past the point of saving or if they’re rotting. They will focus on salvaging teeth that may be unaffected. Some individuals only need a few crowns, whereas others need dental implants or porcelain veneers to improve their mouth. Recovering addicts typically need full dentures after their teeth are completely removed.
The consequences of meth use can be much more dangerous than impacting poor oral health. However, if you’re concerned with your appearance, you’ll want to stop using meth to avoid losing your teeth. However, meth is so much more dangerous than a bad smile. It can also be deadly. Those wanting to stop using the drug are urged to seek detox, the recommended treatment option to get your body free of the drug. Your chances of making a full recovery are much higher when you seek professional care, and you won’t have to worry about the effects of meth mouth.