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Substance Ravages and Destroys Teeth, Gums

CHICAGO, Illinois – According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services more than 12 million people age 12 and older reported that they had used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. Meth causes a large number of health problems for users of the drug but one of the most visual signs takes place in the mouth.

According to the November issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine for the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), more general dentists are spotting drug use during dental care.

Meth has recently been identified as one of the most destructive substances to affect oral health in recent years. Dentists attribute the rampant decay of “meth mouth” to a lack of a user's concern about oral hygiene combined with drug-induced dry mouth, teeth grinding and a craving for carbohydrates and sweets.

Patients face a variety of problems attributed to meth use. “Users will have gray-stained plaque buildup on their teeth and a large number of cracks on the teeth,” says Charles Tatlock, DDS. “These patients also have a large number of cavities. The tooth decay is rapid and after a year of use, dentures are the only option for many patients.”

Another reason for the rapid decay of teeth is the caustic nature of the ingredients used to make meth. Ether benzene, Freon and paint thinner are just a few of the extremely dangerous materials to be used in creating meth. The drug is manufactured mainly in home labs in rural areas of the country. The drug used to be a rural problem but has been spreading to urban areas in recent years.

In addition to the dangers presented by using meth alone, the drug can negatively interact with dental drugs. For that reason, dentists should be cautious when administering local anesthetics, sedatives, general anesthesia, or nitrous oxide, or when prescribing narcotics, according to the ADA.

Eric Curtis, DDS, MAGD, AGD spokesperson says that dentists are warned to watch out for cocaine use because of the damage it can do when it interacts with local anesthetics. “Meth has the same risk,” says Dr. Curtis. “If somebody is self medicating with meth and they have taken meth in the last 24 hours they are at risk for a serious problem.”

For many dentists, the only time they encounter meth users are after the damage to the mouth is done and the recovered user is looking for treatment. The majority of the time, the only choice is to extract the teeth however, if a patient presents themselves early enough, there is always a better chance of restoring the teeth.

Physiological descriptors of meth users

  • Body odor (possibly a chemical smell)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Elevated temperature and excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • High blood pressure

Behavioral descriptors of meth users

  • Signs of agitation
  • Excited speech
  • Possible increase in sexual activity
  • Increase in sensitivity to noise
  • Poor hygiene
  • Intense paranoia
  • Possible auditory and visual hallucination
  • Impaired perception in thought process

SOURCE: Academy of General Dentistry

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