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What Is Meth Mouth?
Meth mouth is the term used to describe severe tooth decay and gum disease caused by the use of methamphetamines (i.e., crystal meth). When left untreated, meth mouth causes teeth to break or fall out entirely.
Methamphetamine users typically have black or stained and rotting teeth. Often, these teeth cannot be saved and require significant dental treatment.
What Causes Meth Mouth?
Dental problems like meth mouth commonly occur from poor nutrition and dental hygiene, as well as teeth grinding and dry mouth caused by methamphetamine abuse.
Meth affects the salivary glands and saliva production, leading to intense dry mouth (xerostomia) and increased risk for cavities and decay.
Many people who abuse meth crave sugary drinks (e.g., soda) and sugary foods while high, contributing to tooth decay. Combined with teeth grinding, another common symptom of meth abuse, the risk for dental problems only increases.
Symptoms of Meth Mouth
Meth mouth is easy to spot, especially in the late stages of decay. Tooth decay isn’t found only in methamphetamine use, but meth users are more likely to experience these symptoms.
Common signs of meth mouth include:
- Bad breath
- Poor oral hygiene
- Cracked teeth
- Missing teeth
- Teeth grinding or clenching (Bruxism)
- Failing to brush or floss for days
- Periodontal disease
- Severe tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Pain while eating
Dangers of Meth Mouth
Malnutrition is a common issue for meth users and people with meth mouth.
Due to missing teeth and oral pain, many people abusing meth struggle to eat properly, maintain a healthy weight, and get the nutrients they need to survive.
In addition, untreated tooth decay can lead to bacteria entering the brain via the bloodstream and causing brain damage.
There is also a risk of meningitis when dental disease leads to a tooth abscess, which causes membranes near the spinal cord and the brain to become inflamed.
Other Effects of Meth Abuse
Meth use has other negative effects on the body besides oral health.
Prolonged methamphetamine abuse has been linked to:
- Extreme weight loss
- High blood pressure
- Cognitive difficulties
- Intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
- Memory loss
- Violent behavior
- Nerve damage
- Liver damage
- Increased risk of HIV and hepatitis
- Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease
Treatment for Meth Mouth
In most cases of meth mouth, the rotten teeth cannot be saved and must be removed. Dental care is the first line of treatment for meth mouth, ideally in combination with drug addiction treatment.
After extracting the damaged or decayed teeth, patients often receive dentures or implants, depending on what they can afford.
Because addiction often ruins people financially, many meth users struggle to pay expensive dental bills.
In addition to dental treatment, addressing substance abuse is essential to ensuring no further dental damage occurs. Inpatient or outpatient treatment programs allow meth addicts access to medical detox and mental health care for their addiction.
Get Help for Meth Mouth
If you or a loved one is suffering from meth mouth due to substance abuse, treatment options are available for you. Entering rehab for meth addiction is one of the first necessary steps you can take.
You can find a local recovery center or addiction treatment provider by contacting SAMHSA’s helpline at 1-877-726-4727 or through their online treatment locator.
FAQs on Meth Mouth
How does meth affect your mouth?
Meth affects oral health by causing extreme dry mouth, teeth grinding, psychological issues that lead to prolonged poor oral hygiene, and cravings for sugary drinks like soda.
These factors, combined with meth’s overall acidity, lead to extremely poor dental health and overall health problems.
Is meth mouth permanent?
Yes. While some teeth may be salvageable, many people will lose many or all of their teeth depending on the severity of their case. The longer drug abuse occurs, the worse tooth decay will become.
What are the symptoms of meth mouth?
Early symptoms of meth mouth include signs of cavities, bad breath, and red and swollen gum tissue. As meth mouth worsens, dental lesions begin to appear, gum tissue starts to recede, and cavities worsen.
In the late stages of meth mouth, dental lesions will be more apparent, teeth will have decayed down to the gum line, and there will be missing teeth.
Is meth mouth contagious?
No. Meth mouth is caused by meth abuse and poor oral hygiene, not by any contagious illness.
Why are meth addicts more likely to have dry mouth?
Meth addicts have dry mouth because crystal meth slows down saliva production. Extreme dry mouth is a common side effect of meth abuse and can ultimately lead to tooth decay.
What is the treatment for meth mouth?
The most common treatment for meth mouth is dental care. Teeth beyond saving will be extracted, and teeth worth saving will receive fillings or crowns. For those who can afford significant dental work, dentures or implants are options for missing teeth.