The Difficult Truth about Methamphetamine and Oral Health

March 21, 2019

 

We can hardly go one day without hearing about the rising rates of drug addiction in our country. Or worse hearing the heartbreaking story of a loved one struggling with addiction. Drug addiction has crippling effects on families, communities and individuals. As dental professionals we are trained to look for the oral signs of drug abuse. It is a difficult but necessary conversation to have. We have our patients best interest and overall health always top of mind. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, please share the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline with them.

Today we’re going to focus on the specific oral health effects of Methamphetamine (Meth) abuse. “According to a 2008 study by the United Nations, approximately 25 million individuals around the world use methamphetamine.1 Between 2008 and 2014, however, the number of methamphetamine users more than doubled. Worldwide, as many as 52 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 are estimated to have used amphetamine-type stimulants for nonmedical purposes in 2014.2 It is the second most widely abused recreational drug (following cannabis).2 (Dimensions)”

It is common to see rampant tooth decay (“Meth Mouth”) in most individuals abusing Meth long term.The causes of such decay are most commonly dry mouth (xerostomia) and long periods of poor oral hygiene. Meth itself is also acidic, lowering the pH of the oral cavity. Dry mouth in any population is a big risk factor for cavities.  If proper care is not taken to counteract the effects of dry mouth, decay will progress quickly. If a patient is in recovery and ready to restore their teeth, there are many steps we can take. First of all, adding a high concentration source of sodium fluoride is imperative. This fluoride will prevent new decay from starting, as we are restoring existing cavities.

Many people recovering from Methamphetamine addiction may not be ready financially to completely restore their teeth. In this case Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) may be the best alternative. SDF is applied topically and is approved for use as a desensitizing agent. The extra benefit to SDF is that it has also been shown to arrest dental caries. In conjunction with regular sodium fluoride use, we can develop a short term plan to control rampant tooth decay. Your dentist and hygienist will develop an individualized plan based on your needs and desires. Restoring your oral health can be a long road at this point, but we will be with you every step of the way.

Other factors to look at are lifestyle habits that can lead to the progression of tooth decay. Tobacco use is common in those abusing recreational drugs. If this is something you also struggle with,  we can help you with the resources for cessation. We will also discuss the impact of your diet on oral health, as high sugar diets can accelerate cavities as well. There is no one size fits all model here, and we will help you with any and all modifiable risk factors to reduce your risk for future cavities.

We know that the result of rampant decay can leave many feeling ashamed or hopeless about their teeth, but we are always here to help. We offer no judgments and are only looking to provide you with the best oral health care possible. If you or someone you know is ready to restore their smile on their road to recovery, we would love to help. As we stated earlier, please share the National Hotline with anyone you think may benefit from it!

 

Resources:

Mouth Healthy:

https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth

ADA:

https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_55.ashx

Dimensions of Dental Hygiene Journal:

https://dimensionsofdentalhygiene.com/article/Caring-for-Patients-Who-Abuse-Methamphetamine/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 


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