Does drug use affect your teeth?

Does drug use affect your teeth? Truth is, there are certain conditions that are linked to the state of a person’s dental health and bad oral ill health even contributes to various diseases (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Experts say that the oral health of a person mirrors his overall wellness.  This is because many compounds such as environmental toxins, antibodies, alcohol, nicotine, hormones, drugs, and opiates can be detected in the saliva.

Among the factors that lead to poor oral health are poor hygiene and diet, stress, trauma, smoking, alcohol use and drug abuse (Dental Health Foundation, 2019). Its contribution to poor dental health only adds to the growing number of facts that one should know about how drug abuse harms the public’s health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recorded almost 400,000 Americans dying from an overdose on opioid from the year 1999 to 2017 (CDC, 2018).

Overall, $740 billion is lost in the economy annually due to the abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Prescription opioids contribute $78.5 billion to this cost in the economy due to lost work productivity, crime, and health care (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017). Similarly, oral diseases are a burden to the public’s health globally (Petersen, Bourgeois, Ogawa,, 2005).

Drug use effects on teeth

We already know how drug abuse can lead to mental health illnesses or damage to the lungs, and heart. But the damage that many types of drugs cause to teeth and gums is often overlooked not knowing that poor oral health complicates other types of diseases.

The first cause of addiction to oral health is the neglect of oral hygiene. Due to intoxication, a person suffering from substance use disorder have no time and/or capability to take care of his oral health, not even flossing. Paying for a dentist for a regular check-up will also be affected with the expenses that a drug patient spends to acquire drugs.

Drug use effects on teeth vary on the type of drug used and the amount and duration of intake. But addiction, in general, harms oral health. Here are the different drug effects on teeth and mouth:

  • Acid reflux – According to the American Dental Association, frequent upset on the stomach affects the teeth through tooth erosion. This process refers to the gradual wearing away of the teeth’s enamel (American Dental Association, 2019). Drug misuse leads to various gastrointestinal conditions. Some drugs that affect the gut include LSD, cocaine, heroin, khat, nicotine, synthetic cannabinoids, and prescription opioids among others.
  • Teeth grinding – Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, causes various problems on the oral health like cracked enamel, broken teeth, a strain on the soft tissue of the jaw joint and on joints, and on rare cases, enlargement of the jaw muscles. Drug misuse, particularly the misuse of amphetamines, is among the factors that trigger bruxism (Dental Health Services Victoria, 2019).
  • Dry mouth – Severe tooth decay is usually caused by dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia (American Dental Association, 2018). This is one of the side-effects of taking medication and using drugs is one of the culprits.
  • Poor oral hygiene – Lack of oral hygiene speeds up tooth decay. Unfortunately, addiction leads to poor oral hygiene due to intoxication.
  • Oral cancer – Similar to tobacco use, smoking marijuana also heightens the risk of developing oral cancer. Marijuana leads to xerostomia too and increased caries rates (Beadnell, 2017).

Aside from these, drug use also leads to lack or loss of blood flow going to roots and gums; poor nutrition due to lack of appetite from drug use causes nutritional deficiencies leading to poor gum health and tooth loss; and mouth sores and ulcers that could lead to further infection.

How Do Certain Drugs Affect Dental Health

There are different types of drugs and each type brings damage to gums, teeth, and oral health in general. Let’s take a closer look at how drugs damage dental health:

  • Amphetamines – Amphetamines are often popular among those who go to party clubs. This type of drug is often called as MDMA, molly, ecstasy, or might also refer to other amphetamine derivatives. The most common dental problem from using amphetamines is teeth cracks due to bruxism. Severe teeth grinding might also lead to damages on the jaw. Amphetamine is a stimulant drug that also causes dry mouth (Katz, 2017).
  • Methamphetamine – Commonly known as meth, ice, or speed, methamphetamines can lead to tooth decay in just a short period of time because it is highly acidic. A study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association found out that the more a person uses meth, the worse the case of their tooth decay was. The study that was published in 2015 also showed that 96 percent of the 571 methamphetamine users examined had cavities, while 31 percent had six or more teeth lost (Shetty, Vivek,, 2015).
  • Cocaine – In a study published in the British Dental Journal in 2008, it was reported that dentists in the UK were likely to treat patients who use cocaine. Cocaine use could lead to erosion of tooth enamel due to teeth grinding and gingival lesions, among other effects (Bland, Gonggrijp and Blanksma, 2008). Users of cocaine, also called nose candy, coke, or blow, would sometimes use cocaine by rubbing it over the gums. This causes ulcers on the gums. Aside from causing dry mouth and teeth grinding, cocaine, when mixed with saliva, forms a very acidic solution leading to tooth erosion.
  • Heroin – Heroin is popular among users as smack or H. It makes users crave for sweet food and can also cause teeth grinding, gum disease, and dry mouth.  Bad oral health was found among those who inject heroin in a study carried out in 2013 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The study involved 519 heroin injection drug users (IDU). The study showed that those who have shown poor oral health left their oral health illnesses untreated. The users also ignored oral problems and did not seek formal treatment unless it was an already an emergency situation (Supic, 2013).
  • Marijuana – Most people are already aware of the carcinogens found in tobacco. Smoking marijuana is no exception. According to the American Dental Association, marijuana has many of the carcinogens found in tobacco and marijuana smokers are found to have higher numbers of caries than non-smokers. Poor oral hygiene is also common among marijuana users and this could lead to a string of oral health problems. It was also found out that the immunosuppressive effects of marijuana increase the risks of cancer due to oral papillomavirus (ADA, 2018)
  • Opioids – The medicine that was supposed to help patients is highly addictive and can lead to more problem in oral health. Firstly, since it is used to reduce pain, those who take opioids regularly might lose his sensitivity to pain leading to neglect of gum disease or pain felt from cavities. Secondly, while opioid is not a stimulant, users still experience teeth grinding and dry mouth.

Prevention of oral health problems and drug use

If you think you or your family member is dependent on drugs, prioritize getting help from a doctor and consider entering a program for drug rehab. It’s the best way to end drug abuse and to avoid further complications, not just on oral health, but on patient’s physical and mental well-being.

Gum disease and other dental health illness would usually lead to teeth loss and will make food intake difficult for a patient. Teeth loss might then lead to poor appetite and low self-esteem. When this happens, recovery from drug use will be more difficult.

A patient who enters a drug rehab will get help with detox prior to the other steps in treatment. Detox will help the patient flush out the harmful toxins from his body, while further treatments will help him overcome his addiction. Some treatment centers will also recommend expert specialists on dental health to help the patient with his problems on dental health.

Once a patient achieves long-term recovery, changes in lifestyle, including having a proper diet.

Treatment for a drug-related oral health problems

There are various types of treatment available to restore the gum health of patients who suffered from a drug use disorder. These treatments include:

  • Dental Fillings
  • Topical fluoride application
  • Teeth extraction
  • Partial dentures
  • Veneers

Drug use and getting a dental treatment

To avoid dental problems, a regular dental check-up is still the best way to go. However, dental treatments may often lead to addiction to a prescribed medication.  Opioids are used to relieve pain among patients. It was found out that dentists ranked third among the prescribers of opioid pain medications in 2010 (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2018). To avoid this situation, let your dentist know about your smoking habits, alcohol intake or the drugs that you have taken

Medical disclaimer:

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.

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