Meth Mouth: How Does Methamphetamine Addiction Affect Teeth?

Meth mouth is one of the most noticeable physical changes that occur when a person abuses meth.

Meth mouth is a result of chronic methamphetamine abuse and addiction. Although the body and brain can heal from many of the damaging side effects of meth addiction, in most cases, the dental damage caused by meth (including meth mouth) is irreversible. In addition to skin damage from shooting meth, meth mouth is often one of the most noticeable physical changes that occur when a person abuses meth. 

Although it’s very serious and can also cause other health problems, when it comes to treatment, meth addiction should take precedence. It’s important to treat the meth addiction first to prevent further dental damage as well as physical and psychological harm.

What Is Meth Mouth?

The term “meth mouth” refers to the dental problems that people commonly experience when they are addicted to meth, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and overall poor dental health.1 

However, “meth mouth” is a very stigmatizing way to describe these dental problems and can contribute to an individual’s meth addiction by making them feel too isolated or ashamed to seek help. Often, meth abuse occurs alongside poverty and addicted individuals may not be able to afford dental care and treatment. People who use meth may also have many physical and psychological needs that are not being addressed.

What Does Meth Mouth Look Like?

Meth mouth is characterized by teeth that are blackened, stained, chipped, and falling apart.

Signs and symptoms of meth mouth typically include:2 

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Sores on the lips
  • Cracked teeth
  • Missing teeth
  • Blackened teeth
  • Bath breath
  • Gum disease
  • Dry mouth
  • Lockjaw
  • Microcavities/surface cavities

If a child, friend, or family member develops severe tooth decay quickly, you should be concerned. Especially if the tooth decay is accompanied by other signs of meth use, such as:3 

  • Going long periods of time without sleeping
  • Not eating
  • Excessive sweating
  • Sores that take a long time to heal
  • Short temper
  • Rapid talking
  • Shakiness
  • Twitching
  • Paranoia 
  • Reduced appetite

What Causes Meth Mouth?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that meth use directly causes tooth decay and dental problems. Instead, meth mouth is caused by issues related to meth addiction and abuse. 

According to the American Dental Association, meth mouth is usually caused by:4 

  • The acidic nature of methamphetamine
  • Meth’s ability to dry out the mouth, reducing protective saliva around the teeth
  • Drug-induced cravings for high-calorie carbonated drinks
  • Meth users’ tendency to grind and clench their teeth
  • The long 12-hour duration of meth’s effects, during which users are unlikely to brush their teeth

Methamphetamine is made with harsh chemicals that are not intended for human consumption. These chemicals not only destroy the body over time but they also corrode teeth. While users are high, they may also be more likely to grind their teeth due to the drug’s stimulating effects, which can chip and break because they are weakened by the chemicals found in meth.

People who are addicted to meth may forget to brush their teeth while they are high because they may lose track of time. (A meth high can last 12 hours or more.) They may also combine sugary foods and beverages with meth use, which results in poor oral hygiene over time. Individuals who are severely addicted to meth may also lack proper nutrition because methamphetamine acts as an appetite suppressant. This will affect the body’s ability to heal itself and painful abscesses or lesions in the mouth may not heal completely.

Additionally, other factors may contribute to the development of meth mouth, such as lack of regular dental maintenance and a chronic habit of smoking meth, which will damage tooth enamel. In short, the more meth a person uses, the worse the tooth decay will be.

According to one study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, an examination of the mouths of 571 methamphetamine users found that:5 

  • 96% had cavities
  • 58% had untreated tooth decay
  • 31% had six or more missing teeth

In What Other Ways Can Meth Addiction Change Your Appearance?

Meth addiction can wreak havoc on a person’s health and well-being, which also affects physical appearance. Many people who are addicted to meth experience physical changes like:

  • Severe weight loss: Meth is a powerful stimulant that acts as an appetite suppressant. As a result, people who are suffering from meth addiction often eat very little for days at a time and lack proper nutrition. 
  • Skin sores: Many meth users develop sores that do not heal properly due to nutritional deficiencies. Meth users frequently scratch their itchy skin because the drug can make them feel like drugs are crawling under their skin.
  • Poor hygiene: Meth addiction may cause users to lose track of time and therefore, they may forget to shower, brush their teeth, or change clothes. Overall, drug addiction can also contribute to poor hygiene as a person becomes more and more obsessed with their drug of choice.

Other Health Problems Associated With Meth Addiction

In addition to affecting your physical appearance, meth addiction can severely damage your health and contribute to a wide range of health problems. These may include:

  • Blood-borne infections
  • Increased risk for HIV and hepatitis
  • Heart problems
  • Hyperthermia
  • Severe itching
  • Seizures 
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage

Treatment for Meth Addiction

Meth addiction is notoriously difficult to overcome. However, there are effective treatment methods and strategies for those who are ready to make a change and get sober. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction are behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management.6 When combined with other interventions like family therapy, individual counseling, 12-Step support, regular drug testing, and certified peer recovery support, an individual is more likely to successfully quit meth and sustain their sobriety.

A long-term residential rehab program that lasts 90 days or more is also more likely to give individuals the time they need to heal physically and emotionally from meth addiction. It also provides an extended time away in a safe, sober, and supportive living environment so they can fully focus on recovering from meth addiction.

After residential rehab, an in-person intensive outpatient program or online IOP program and a sober living program can help individuals adjust to a sober lifestyle and receive ongoing support as they transition back into an independent living situation. Sober living programs also provide additional types of support to help clients get jobs, go back to school, and locate local support groups.

Find a Meth Detox Program That’s Right For You

If you are suffering from meth addiction, a medical detox program can help you safely and effectively stop using meth. Meth detox provides medical supervision and counseling to help you manage physical symptoms of meth withdrawal, which can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Strong cravings

Meth detox also provides individual counseling to help you deal with the psychological symptoms of withdrawal like cravings and mood swings. After you reach a stable state of sobriety, your detox treatment team can provide recommendations for ongoing treatment in rehab based on your needs, treatment history, and financial ability.

If you’re ready to get help for meth addiction, please call (888) 857-0557 to speak with an admissions representative at Briarwood Detox Center. Our meth detox program in Austin and Houston will help you start over and take back your life from meth addiction. All you have to do is call to get started today.

References:

  1. https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/what-is-meth-mouth 
  2. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/methamphetamine/meth-mouth-how-meth-addiction-can-change-appearance 
  3. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/methamphetamine/how-to-tell-if-your-spouse-is-using-meth
  4. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_55.ashx
  5. https://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177%2815%2900977-0/abstract
  6. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-people-who-misuse-methamphetamine

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