Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Effect of Substance Abuse on Oral Health
Oral health problems are unfortunately very common amongst people who have substance abuse problems. Some drugs are known to cause serious problems to teeth and gums and this combined with poor maintenance of oral health can mean that people suffer severe problems. Chronic tooth decay, cracked teeth, gingivitis or other forms of gum disease and other complications are often ignored by those who have an addiction.
For people who have a substance abuse problem, maintaining an adequate level of oral hygiene is often not adhered to. They may be overcome with the devastating affect of their addiction and forget to brush or floss for days on end. Additionally, if they experience pain associated with their mouth, they may ignore it and self medicate the problem with alcohol or drugs which only worsens the problem.
Many people who take drugs or alcohol tend to use the substances in higher amounts in the evenings, before going to sleep. The increase in consumption of sugary drinks including alcohol, snack food that includes high sugar levels and refined carbohydrates at night is known to lead to a higher rate of decay and plaque. This is particularly true if a person does not brush and floss their teeth before going to sleep. For people who vomit when they are intoxicated or under the influence, they expose their teeth to corrosive chemicals that can increase the problems of decay and enamel wear on their teeth.
Alcohol is known to contribute to an increase in tooth decay. This is because the majority of alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugar and frequent consumption will de-mineralize and weaken tooth enamel. For a person who is an alcoholic, this can mean that they will suffer from serious tooth and gum problems.
For people who binge drink, tooth decay and damage to enamel potentially occurs more. This is because the level of alcohol consumed combined with vomiting which often is a side effect of this type of drinking can cause high levels of acid to build up in the mouth. A person may pass out after consuming alcohol and vomiting which means they will not remove the harmful levels of sugar and acid in their mouth.
Stimulants like ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine are known to cause individuals to clench and grind their teeth when under the influence. This can turn into a very serious habit and teeth can become ground down and in some cases cracked from this act. Teeth grinding can also lead to headaches, neck and ear aches.
Damage to the tooth roots and gums can lead to more significant problems in the future which may lead to root canal therapy or requiring tooth implants. Some individuals also have caused their teeth to be loosened from the excessive grinding and clenching which has resulted in them requiring orthodontic treatment such as retainers or braces to correct these problems.
Users of stimulants often also experience chronic dry mouth and many people will drink soft drinks and other sweetened drinks. This is particularly true of people who take these substances when attending dance music events or nightclubbing. They may drink alcohol which contains a lot of alcohol and soft drinks or energy drinks. Combining dry mouth and high sugar beverages can cause very serious decay that will require intensive work from a dentist or oral hygienist.
Meth Mouth is a term used to describe the discoloration, rotting and broken teeth in the mouth of a person who has an addiction to methamphetamine. This extreme tooth decay is a condition that occurs in many people and it is believed that it is caused by the drug. Methamphetamine causes the saliva glands to stop producing saliva so a person will experience an extremely dry mouth. This allows the acid in the mouth and in food and drink that is consumed to eat away at the protective enamel on the teeth. Users also may obsessively grind their teeth and may not brush their teeth for many days while on a binge.
Methamphetamine is produced from a range of highly toxic chemicals which can cause many problems for an addict. Lithium, muratic and sulfuric acid are key ingredients in methamphetamine and these are all highly corrosive. When a person smokes methamphetamine in a pipe, these chemicals are heated, vaporized and inhaled which can cause sores on the inside of the mouth. The corrosive chemicals also coat the teeth causing significant decay to the enamel. If the drug is snorted, the chemicals are drawn down the nasal passage to the back of the throat and coating the teeth with the substance.
Heroin is known to cause serious oral health problems and in chronic long term users, bad teeth, bad gums and missing teeth are often apparent. In surveys of injecting heroin drug users, up to 70 per cent described problems such as teeth snapping off, teeth falling apart, gum disease and trauma. These problems are often a result of a lack of dental hygiene, access to health care or not caring about oral health due to drug addiction.
Individuals who are addicted to heroin or other opiates often experience severe decay in their teeth. This is because the drug causes them to crave sweet foods and drinks but their lifestyle often ignores the importance of mouth care. Additionally, many addicts consume sugary drinks and foods because they are inexpensive and readily available.
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