Tooth Decay From Drug Use
There are many different philosophies when it comes to recovery from drug addiction. For many years the traditional, “12 steps” treatment was pretty much all there was around, and even if you weren’t spiritual, you had to find a “higher power” to work the steps. While the 12 steps have helped a lot of people, the spiritual aspect left some addicts in the dust. Today there are many different approaches to drug addiction that are much more inclusive; however, drug addiction is still rampant around the world, and continues to be one of the worst health epidemics in history. Frequently, tooth decay from drug use results.
Recovering from drug addiction is difficult, and tooth decay from drug use is something that must be addressed just for a person’s general health. Mending the body after years of heavy drug use is one of the most vital steps in the recovery process, regardless of the type of recovery the addict chooses to work.
Tooth decay from drug use can be minor or severe, depending on the length of time the person was using and which kind of drugs they used. Also, environmental factors could come into play in regard to drug use. Addicts come in all shapes and sizes. The tooth decay from drug use could be much more severe in an addict that is homeless, as opposed to a closet addict who owns their own home and is semi-functional.
Also, each drug has its own effect on teeth and oral health. The most common drug that will destroy someone’s smile is methamphetamine. But is this due to the chemical compound of the drug, or is it due to how the drug manifests in someone’s lifestyle?
Illegal Drugs and How They Affect Our Teeth
The most common issue with using any kind of drug is that most of them cause a condition known as “dry mouth.” Dry mouth is pretty self-explanatory, but in order to understand why dry mouth will cause tooth decay, we need to understand the role that saliva plays in our oral health.
Research has shown that our saliva is composed of many different compounds that help regulate our oral health. Not one single component has been shown to be more important than another and all of them play an important role in a well-balanced environment that regulates oral health. Our saliva protects oral tissues against noxious compounds produced by microorganisms as well as provides a flushing effect that cleans and protects our teeth. (Tenovuo, 2009)
Also known as marijuana, cannabis is notorious for causing “dry mouth” symptoms. Users may also refer to this as “cotton mouth”. The American Dental Association, much like the federal government deems that cannabis is associated with poor oral health not only due to dry mouth, but also because cannabis users also use nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs. The ADA also states that “A number of studies have suggested a direct relationship between cannabis use and periodontal disease” (Cho CM, 2005)
The ADA also states that cannabis use increases the risk of mouth and neck cancers. However, studies show that long-term cannabis use does not in fact increase the likelihood of head and neck cancers. (Aldington, 2008) (Morgan A. Marks, 2015). On the other hand, smoking cannabis can cause oral inflammation. If you do choose to consume cannabis, sugar-free edibles are the best for oral health. Using cannabis tincture blends can also be a safer way to consume cannabis. In reality though, if you’re addicted to THC, you can still suffer oral health problems for a variety of other reasons related to poor oral care.
One of the most common ways to ingest cocaine is to inhale it through the nasal passages. Another common use is to rub it on the gums. These two ways introduce a great amount of the drug into the mouth and cocaine has a huge impact on oral health. When mixed with saliva, cocaine becomes extremely acidic, eroding tooth enamel and exposing the underlying dentine to decay-causing bacteria.
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is highly addicting. Tooth decay from drug use when using cocaine is caused due to the highly acidic nature of the drug as well as users constantly grinding their teeth while under its effects. Cocaine also reduced the oxygen supply to the organs and can cause a perforation of the nasal septum and surrounding tissue. This effect can lead to complications involving the oral cavity by causing perforation of the palate.
While the chemical composition of heroin isn’t known to promote tooth decay; however, users of the drug tend to neglect their dental health. Heroin users also tend to crave sweets which increases the progression of tooth decay when proper dental hygiene is neglected. Heroin can also cause dry mouth and tooth grinding.
Meth is the most notorious drug when it comes to bad teeth. The term “meth mouth” is widely used to describe the effect that the drug has on teeth. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, and taken in pill form and is highly acidic in nature. The teeth of meth users are characterized by being rotted, blackened, crumbling, and falling apart.
Research has shown that nearly all meth users have cavities, over half suffered from untreated tooth decay and 31% had more than six missing teeth. Tooth decay is likely caused by the drugs induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in dry mouth and long periods of poor oral hygiene, along with long periods of sleeplessness. (Shetty, 2015)
Ecstasy doesn’t have any direct causes of tooth decay. That may be surprising, especially considering all of the scare tactics and outright lies about it put out by the government in the 90s and early 2000s. They used to say it put holes in your brain (eye roll). However, common side effects of the drug include tooth grinding, jaw clenching, and dry mouth. If you do choose to use MDMA, it’s best to keep something in your mouth to avoid tooth damage such as gum. People can wear down their teeth or even chip and break them if they’re experiencing an intense high.
Legal Drug Tooth Decay From Drug Use
No matter how much you want to spin it, the American society has drugs we accept and drugs we don’t accept. Ones that are normal. No problem. Typical. Everyone’s doing it. This is starting to sound like an early 90s DARE PSA. But that’s because there’s almost no difference between the drugs we’ve determined are “A-OK” and the ones we’ve decided are naughty! And when it comes to legal drugs, your three favorites (caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) are not much better than illegal drugs. It’s sad but true and if you have an addition to caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol, you may experience tooth decay from drug use as well.
Let’s be real for a moment. Yes, you can be addicted to caffeine, and YES, caffeine is a drug. Be honest. If you’re a regular coffee drinker or consume multiple sodas and energy drinks on a day-to-day basis, there’s a good chance your body has become dependent on caffeine. Whether coffee, energy drinks, or soda, tooth decay from drug use, even these common drinks, may happen.
Lack of Water & Dehydration
One of the biggest problems with drinking caffeinated beverages is that they are often substituted for water. You have a coffee in the morning but not a glass of water. Maybe a few cups of coffee. You may have a soda at lunch in place of your water bottle because, “Hey it tastes better”, right? You might have a sugary Monster or Red Bull to get you through the day or maybe a midnight study session. Again, you should be consuming water and you’re subbing it out for something else. So not only are you missing out on chances to consume more water and keep your saliva flow healthy, but you’re opting to drink stuff that can actually lead to dehydration, exacerbating the problem.
Excess Sugar Consumption
Then, we have the sugar content. We all know that excess sugar consumption can be bad for the teeth. And when we think coffee, a lot of people add sugars, syrups, caramel sauce, and whip cream… it never ends. Sugar sugar sugar! And Energy drinks are no exception. In fact, they’re usually worse. Frequently, energy drinks have over 50g of sugar per serving. That’s a shockingly large amount! The more you get addicted to caffeine or make energy drinks your mode of ingestion, the more sugar you consume. And the more you consume, the more your teeth suffer the consequences.
Oh, and speaking of the consequences of carbonated drinks, soda isn’t much better. You may get a smaller, less concentrated dose of caffeine in a smaller serving than your typical energy drink. However, soda drinkers might just have 3 or 4 sodas to make up the difference. Nothing to be excited about. And the more addicted you get, the more often you may experience tooth decay from drug use of caffeine.
Staining & Carbonation
Finally, we come to tooth staining and the damage of carbonation. It’s no secret that coffee drinkers stain their teeth. The more coffee you drink and the longer the duration of your coffee use, the worse your teeth look. Sodas and energy drinks can do similar things, especially because of all the weird dyes they use. And while coffee has its drawbacks, at least it’s served “flat”. However, we can’t say the same for soda and energy drinks.
We’ve all done the “drop the tooth in carbonated drinks” science experiment at some time or another. And we’ve all seen what it can do to teeth. Now of course not too many people take their teeth out at night and let them bathe in Dr. Pepper, but over time, a similar effect occurs. So if you’re addicted to caffeine, tooth staining and carbonation tooth decay from drug use may be a problem you notice. If you do feel like you and caffeine have too close of a relationship, we recommend you try to taper off. However, be warned that, like any other addiction, you’ll notice the effects and withdrawal symptoms over the next couple of weeks. Push through it and keep your teeth healthy.
Many believe quitting smoking is even more difficult than quitting some of the other, “harder” drugs. Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and using other nicotine-containing products have become a part of our culture here in the United States. In fact, big tobacco spent a lot of money back in the 70s and 80s promoting their products in the movies. That sort of shameless promotion is now illegal; however, it has already made its mark on our culture.
Nicotine addiction is still as rampant as it was back in the 80s, it’s just different now. While there are still a lot of cigarette smokers out there, now we have people using nicotine in the form of “vapes.” At first, many people thought that vaping was much better for you than smoking cigarettes, but now research has shown that the health benefits of vaping over smoking are minimal.
People who smoke have a higher risk of developing gum problems and oral cancer. Smoking is also notorious for causing tooth discoloration. What a lot of people don’t know is smoking cigarettes can also cause plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and will increase the loss of bone in the jaw as you age. Nicotine addiction also slows down the healing process after any kind of treatment like tooth extraction, periodontal treatment, and oral surgery
Alcohol addiction is nearly as common of a problem as addiction to nicotine in the United States. It is estimated that nearly 14 million adults, or one in every 13 people, abuse alcohol in the U.S. Most people only think that alcohol is bad for the liver, when in fact it has a large negative impact on your oral health.
Alcohol drastically reduces your salvia production, leading to dry mouth and dehydration. Also, drinking alcohol works to dehydrate you just like your soda and coffee. When you are drinking beer or other alcoholic drinks you are not drinking the water you need to stay hydrated, which exacerbates the dehydrating effects.
Addiction to alcohol has been shown to cause gum disease, create cavities and tooth decay, lead to oral cancer and inhibit addicts from keeping up with proper oral; home care routines and making dental appointments.
Recovering from Drug Addiction
While some drugs can directly cause tooth decay due to the acidic nature of the drugs like meth and cocaine, what it really boils down to is the psychological issues that arise when addicted to drugs that cause people to neglect their dental health and overall well-being. With active drug addiction, a person’s general health will begin to degrade over time as they neglect their bodies.
When an addict uses drugs that are acidic, in combination with neglecting their oral health, tooth decay will accelerate. Recovering from active drug addiction is a very difficult process that involves, in many instances, a severe withdrawal period where the body will go into a state of shock when the addict ceases the drug use.
After this withdrawal period, depending on the length of the drug addiction and the type of drug used, there will be a period of recovery that the body will have to go through as it adjusts to the lack of the drug in the system. This is especially true with opiate addiction. When an opiate addict goes through withdrawal, the shock to the system can be so severe that fatalities have occurred. (K Rasmussen, 1990)
Treatments for Tooth Decay from Drug Use
After an addict has recovered from drug use, they are often presented with the clear and sober reality of the damages that they have brought to their bodies. The damage to their teeth is the most apparent.
Here At City Dental Centers, we have been tasked with helping many recovered addicts come back from the damages that active drug use has brought on their dental health. The treatment of tooth decay from drug use is much like any other kind of tooth decay with some small differences.
At first, your dentists will thoroughly access and examine all the damage that has been done to the addict’s oral health as well as review the patient’s medical history. This will be so the dentist can come up with a complete analysis of all the progression of tooth decay that has occurred, how many teeth have been lost if any, and if the patient is allergic to any medications.
The first step will be to provide a thorough fluoride treatment in an attempt to stop the current tooth decay. Then, the dentist will discuss with the patient or any kind of sponsor or guardian how the use of sedation, nitrous oxide, or anesthesia can be done for any further treatment. Root canals, tooth extractions, and any other kind of procedure that involves the use of pain relievers or sedation must be carefully considered when treating tooth decay from drug use.
City Dental Centers are Here for You
If you or a loved one suffers from tooth decay from drug use, any dental treatment must be done with sympathy for the specific needs of a recovering addict in mind. Any application of sedation or anesthesia can derail a recovery program. We understand that part of recovery from drug addiction is healing from years of neglect and abuse, and the dental health of the addict is just as important.
Our dentists are all experienced in the treatment of addicts and recovering addicts. We have offices all around Southern California, so there is a City Dental Center near you. Call us today and discuss all of the ways we can help you or your loved one recover their dental health.
Convenient Dentist Offices in Southern California
Doctor Sam Shahovesi and the team at City Dental Centers provide our patients with the best dental services. From toddlers to seniors, City Dental Centers offers six convenient dentist offices in Southern California.
Whether you need checkups, x-rays, braces, bonding, teeth whitening, sealants, oral cancer screenings, root canals, crowns, bridges, implants, or tooth extraction, City Dental Centers is here to make the process as easy and comfortable as possible. If you’re looking for a quality dentist that won’t break the bank, give your local City Dental Center a try today.
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- Aldington, S. (2008). Cannabis use and cancer of the head and neck: Case-control study. Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.
- Cho CM, H. R. (2005). General and oral health implications of cannabis use. Aust Dent J.
- K Rasmussen, D. B.-J. (1990). Opiate withdrawal and the rat locus coeruleus: behavioral, electrophysiological, and biochemical correlates. Journal of Neuroscience.
- Morgan A. Marks, A. K. (2015). Association of marijuana smoking with oropharyngeal and oral tongue cancers: Pooled analysis from the INHANCE Consortium. HHS Public Access.
- Shetty, V. (2015). Dental disease patterns in methamphetamine users. ORIGINAL CONTRIBUTIONS COVER STORY.
- Tenovuo, J. (2009). The antimicrobial function of human saliva – how important is it for oral health? Acta Odontologica Scandinavica.