Meth Mouth

Illegal drug use affects people in many ways. Methamphetamine use affects the appearance and function of the mouth. Methamphetamine use turns teeth a dark color and causes tooth decay. These symptoms occur rapidly, and the destruction to the teeth is severe. The condition is known as meth mouth. Methamphetamine is also called speed, meth, or crystal meth.

CAUSES

Methamphetamine use can lead to serious tooth decay for several reasons, including:

  • Too little spit (saliva) is produced. People who use methamphetamine make less saliva than normal. Saliva is needed to prevent tooth decay. It washes food off the teeth. It helps stop bacteria from growing. It also reduces the amount of acid in the mouth.

  • Lack of blood flow to the gums. Blood carries needed nutrients to the gums.

  • Too much acid in the mouth. Meth contains a lot of acid, which can erode the teeth and lead to tooth decay.

  • Teeth grinding. Teeth grinding can cause teeth to crack. Then, decay sets in, leading to breakdown.

Drug use may promote other habits that contribute to the problem. This may include:

  • Poor oral hygiene. Teeth are not cleaned as often or as well as they should be.

  • Not drinking enough fluids.

  • Drinking too many drinks that contain sugar. Being high on meth causes sugar craving.

  • Not eating well. The drug makes people lose their appetite.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of meth mouth include:

  • Tooth decay. Decay is commonly seen at the junction of the gum and tooth, but decay can also occur on any surface of the tooth.

  • Dark-colored teeth. They may even look black.

  • Broken or crumbling teeth from clenching and grinding.

  • Swollen gums. This is caused by infection.

  • Pain from the teeth or gums.

  • Fever.

  • Bad breath.

  • Dry mouth. 

Other indications of a methamphetamine problem include:

  • Severe tooth decay in a young adult.

  • Severe gum disease in a young adult.

DIAGNOSIS

A dental exam will help decide how to proceed with problems caused by methamphetamine abuse. X-rays may be taken.

TREATMENT

The most important thing is to stop using methamphetamine. How the teeth will be treated will depend on how bad the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Topical fluoride. This is a substance that helps prevent decay. It can also make the teeth stronger.

  • Saliva substitutes. These will aid in swallowing and food clearance from your mouth.

  • A mouth guard. Wearing this can prevent tooth grinding.

  • Decay removal and filling cavities.

  • Root canal therapy. This is needed if the material inside the tooth (pulp) dies. The pulp is removed and the root canal is filled and sealed off. Often a new top to the tooth (crown) is put over the bottom part of the tooth (root).

  • Pulling teeth (extraction). Sometimes teeth cannot be saved because of severe destruction, and they must be removed.

  • Gum surgery. This may be needed if the gums are badly infected.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Do not use methamphetamine. This drug is very addictive. To stop using it, you might need help, such as:

  • Counseling.

  • Participation in a support group.

  • A stay in a drug treatment center.

  • Take any supplements or medicines your caregiver suggests. Follow the directions carefully.

  • Brush and floss your teeth every day. Do this 2 times a day if you can. Also use an antibacterial mouthwash.

  • Avoid sugary drinks.

  • Do not smoke.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments. This is how your dentist and caregivers can tell if you are getting better.

SEEK MEDICAL OR DENTAL CARE IF:

  • You have any questions about your treatment.

  • You cannot get rid of bad breath.

  • You continue to have mouth pain.

  • Your teeth continue to break.

  • You have trouble staying away from methamphetamine use.

  • You develop a fever of more than 100.5° F (38.1° C).

SEEK IMMEDIATE DENTAL CARE IF:

  • A tooth becomes loose or falls out.

  • Mouth pain suddenly gets much worse and cannot be helped by pain medicine.

  • You notice swelling in your mouth.

  • You have trouble swallowing or opening your mouth.

  • You develop a fever of more than 102° F (38.9° C).

  • You have facial swelling.