When people think about the bodily harm that results from drug abuse, they most often consider things like damage to the brain, lungs, heart or stomach. What is less known is the serious harm that drugs and substances cause to a person’s teeth and gums.
While almost any drug, legal or illegal, can affect a person’s system and cause harm to their teeth and gums the greatest damage comes from the use of common street drugs: methamphetamine (meth), heroin, marijuana and cocaine.
What Drug Use Does to the Teeth and Gums
Using of drugs frequently causes dry mouth – a serious lack of saliva production. Saliva is a key protector that wards off bacteria overpopulation. Without enough saliva, dry mouth irritates the soft tissue in the mouth and the gums. Once the gums are inflamed, they can recede from the tooth wall. This then allows bacteria to enter the gaps, resulting in infections and tooth decay. For people who abuse substances, poor oral hygiene is common due to multiple factors -an inability to afford proper oral care, a lack of concern for oral health, or a lack of nutritious foods. Stimulant drugs, such as ecstasy, meth, cocaine or heroin, cause the individual to clench or grind their teeth. This can result in jaw pain and the weakening of teeth -sometimes to the point that they end up breaking off. People who smoke in addition to using drugs are also at risk for infection and tooth decay since smoking negatively affects any part of the mouth.
Harm to Teeth Based on Specific Drugs
In addition to the general harm associated with substance abuse and poor oral health, each different street drug creates additional adverse health outcomes, resulting in rotten, discolored, broken, missing teeth and gum disease.
Methamphetamine is very acidic. Use can lead to upset stomach due to the drug’s acidity -causing reflux and vomiting. Excessive vomiting coats the teeth with acid, leading to further corrosion of the enamel and allowing more decay to set in. Additionally, meth sometimes makes people crave soda and sweets, another common element in tooth decay.
Use of heroin causes damage to the teeth that are nearly the same as those seen with meth use. Also, the drug’s pain-killing property can cause an individual to ignore symptoms of damaged teeth and gums, leading to further problems.
Smoking marijuana can cause mouth cancer. Additionally, some people develop a condition called “cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.” This condition leads to nausea and vomiting that can wear away the enamel of the teeth, leading to tooth decay.
When snorted, use of cocaine damages the tissue that separates the roof of the mouth from the nasal cavity. Over time, this can cause a hole to form, making it hard for the individual to eat or speak. Also, cocaine is acidic. If it is smoked (as with crack) or if the powder is placed in the mouth, the teeth are coated with the acid and their protective enamel breaks down. For some people, rubbing cocaine on the gums produces mouth sores.