Unfortunately, in recent years, it seems to be gaining popularity. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported 595,000 regular users in 2013, compared to 353,000 in 2010.
Meth is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system. Some people use it because it can work as a euphoriant or aphrodisiac. It’s also highly addictive, which can lead to higher dosages and long-term abuse. When that happens, the long-term effects are many, according to NIDA:
- Psychosis, including paranoia, hallucinations and repetitive motor activity.
- Changes in brain structure and function.
- Deficits in thinking and motor skills.
- Increased distractibility.
- Memory loss.
- Aggressive or violent behavior.
- Mood disturbances.
Meth is also bad on teeth. In fact, it’s so bad that dentists have a word for it: meth mouth.
Meth Mouth: A Massive Problem
Meth mouth refers to severe tooth decay — teeth that are blackened, stained or rotting out. Teeth can be so worn down they break, fall out or have to be extracted. Meth causes other tooth problems, too, such as tooth fracture and acid erosion. Not only can this destroy a person’s smile, it can rob them of their ability to chew.
According to the American Dental Association, an examination of the mouths of 571 methamphetamine users showed:
- 96% had cavities
- 58% had untreated tooth decay
- 31% had six or more missing teeth
So why is meth so toxic to the mouth?
Four Reasons Meth Really Messes Up the Mouth
Meth is extremely acidic. One of the most popular methods of meth manufacturing is to fuse red phosphorus with hydroiodic acid. Other ingredients can include lye and battery acid. These are corrosive on enamel, causing it to flake off. Usually, the front teeth are the first to decay.
The damage can work all the way down to the dental pulp. Dental pulp is just beneath the dentin of a tooth. Dentin is protected by enamel, and dental pulp by dentin. With damaged dental pulp, teeth stop receiving the moisture and nutrients they need. Damaged dental pulp can also lead to increased sensitivity.
Meth causes extremely dry mouth. The clinical name for extremely dry mouth is xerostomia. Xerostomia is bad, because saliva contains enzymes that kill bacteria. When the mouth is extremely dry, it doesn’t produce saliva to kill bacteria, and bacteria can proliferate, causing tooth decay.
Many users don’t maintain a healthy diet. While on meth, many people substitute sugary snacks and soda for normal healthy meals, according to the American Dental Association.
Meth can cause users to clench their teeth. Prolonged use of meth can cause psychosis. This can lead to bruxism, also known as teeth grinding. Bruxism can wear down teeth.
Black spots on teeth shouldn’t just indicate meth has led to a few cavities. They should reveal meth use has gone too far, and addiction has already taken hold.
Don’t let meth destroy your smile. If you or a loved one is addicted to meth, seek help now. You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or find treatment online.