Meth Mouth: How Methamphetamine Use Affects Dental Health

Note: A graphic image of meth mouth can be found at the bottom of this article.

Methamphetamine (meth) is a dangerously addictive drug that can have severe health consequences, including stroke and permanent brain damage. It’s also devastating to your dental health, according to a December 2015 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

“Meth mouth” is characterized by severe tooth decay and gum disease, which often causes teeth to break or fall out. An examination of the mouths of 571 methamphetamine users showed:
  • 96% had cavities
  • 58% had untreated tooth decay
  • 31% had six or more missing teeth
The teeth of people addicted to methamphetamines are characterized by being blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling and falling apart. Often, the teeth cannot be salvaged and must be removed. The extensive tooth decay is likely caused by a combination of drug-induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in dry mouth and long periods of poor oral hygiene. Methamphetamine itself is also acidic.

The study found that the more meth a person used, the worse their tooth decay was. Meth users who were 30 years of age or older, women or cigarette smokers were more likely to have tooth decay and gum disease.

Meth – also known as speed, ice, glass and crystal – can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken in pill form and is highly addictive. The high (which causes the brain to feel intense pleasure) can last up to 12 hours. This can lead to long periods of poor dental hygiene. While high, users often crave high-calorie, carbonated, sugary beverages. In addition, they may grind or clench their teeth, all of which can harm teeth.

In the short term, meth can cause shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, hyper activity, decreased appetite, tremors and trouble breathing. Over time, meth can cause irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, stroke, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. It can also negatively affect ability to learn long-term.

Though on the decline nationwide, meth use remains high in certain areas of the country, like the West and Midwest. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.2 million people reported they had used meth in the past year; 440,000 had used it in the past month.

If you or someone you love are struggling with meth addiction, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or find treatment online.

Meth mouth