Just Say Verboten | How Illegal Substances Destroy Your Smile

Posted Jun 2022

By Delta Dental of Arkansas

Tagged gum disease, dry mouth, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, addiction, drug abuse, recreational use, medicinal use, food cravings, lesions, oral cancer, tooth discoloration, cavities, meth mouth, Marijuana, ecstasy, opioids, methamphetamine, meth, cocaine, Heroin

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Just Say Verboten | How Illegal Substances Destroy Your Smile

Narcotic substances and devices

Illegal substances, or illicit drugs, have the power to destroy everything good in your life, starting with your smile.

The potential damage to your teeth and gums includes caries, gum disease and badly discolored, missing and broken teeth, just for starters. As a result, your self-esteem and appearance are likely to suffer, along with your ability to eat, swallow, speak, chew, breathe and digest foods.

Let’s get the full dose:

The Destructive Effects of Various Illegal Drugs on Your Oral Health

  • Methamphetamine (Meth). This drug is one of the most devastating substances for your mouth. The effects are so extreme that users are often described as having “meth mouth,” with severely damaged, black and missing teeth.

    So what’s going on?

    Meth mouth is the result of the drug’s damaging chemicals combined with the user’s impaired mental health and neglected oral hygiene:

    1. Meth’s highly acidic ingredients wear down the tooth enamel so effectively and fast that teeth can decay to the gum line in weeks. 
    2. Meth also raises the user’s anxiety levels, resulting in jaw clenching and teeth grinding, causing further deterioration. 
    3. Another side effect of the drug is dry mouth. Without adequate saliva flow to rinse away food debris and bacteria, gum disease and cavities are likely to develop.
    4. Finally, a meth user is less likely to brush and floss when high and give in to frequent cravings for sugary foods and drinks.
  • Cocaine. Like methamphetamine, cocaine is classified as a stimulant, taken for its initial effect of high energy levels and feelings of euphoria. Cocaine is highly acidic. Smoking crack cocaine or rubbing powdered cocaine on the gums is likely to damage tooth enamel and cause cavities and gum disease.
  • Opioids, including heroin and prescription pain relievers. Opioids are made from morphine, a natural substance found in various opium poppy plants. Careful: “Natural” does not mean “harmless”—quite the contrary. This is how opioids harm your mouth:
    1. Heroin and many opioid prescriptions lead to dry mouth, a condition that promotes gum disease and tooth decay. 
    2. Users often experience a decreased appetite yet cravings for sugary foods. A diet low in healthy nutrients but high in sugar promotes cavities and gum inflammation.
    3. Heroin users often have oral fungus, oral viral infections and/or discoloration of the tongue.
    4. With their focus on getting their next fix, heroin users and prescription drug addicts are likely to neglect taking care of their teeth and gums, accelerating tooth decay and gum disease.
    5. Intravenous heroin users have been observed to develop patterns of dental decay similar to meth mouth.
  • Ecstasy, LSD, Magic Mushrooms and other Hallucinogens. These stimulants can cause dry mouth, cavities and gum disease, plus teeth grinding and jaw clenching due to the increased energy and activity levels experienced by users.
  • Marijuana. While still federally banned, marijuana or cannabis has been legalized in many states for medicinal or recreational use. However, it is not harmless to your teeth and gums.

Can Your Dentist Tell You’re Using Illegal Drugs?

Your dentist is most likely going to suspect that you are using based on the deteriorating condition of your teeth, gums and oral tissue. 

Even if they don’t ask you directly about your drug use, try to be as transparent as possible. Your dentist can be a strong ally if you seek treatment and support to beat your addiction. They will also need to know so they can decide how to manage your oral care, including any possible sedation and prescription drugs. Otherwise, the treatment and medications could trigger severe health complications in combination with illegal substances.

If you are looking for a dentist, try this tool.

Highly Recommended: Dental Insurance

Not to be flippant about something as mundane as dental insurance in a blog about such a serious and tragic topic as drug addiction. But if and when you’re ready to consider dental or vision coverage for yourself or your family, check us out. We offer a variety of plans with competitive rates, different levels of benefits to suit your needs and access to one of Arkansas’s largest networks of providers.

Interested in group coverage? More info here.

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