Methamphetamine and Oral Health 

Introduction

Methamphetamine is an illegal street drug.  It is a stimulant that produces a prolonged high or euphoric state.  Methamphetamine use is a threat to your child’s general health and oral health.  A common side effect of using the drug is “meth mouth.”  Meth mouth is a devastating condition with a distinctive pattern of widespread tooth decay and tooth loss.

Methamphetamine has several slang names, including meth, crystal, speed, ice, chalk, shards, rock, pony, crissie, clear, chimichanga, jib, critter, crawford, tina, crank, fire, glass, and the working man’s cocaine. People use methamphetamine to achieve a long lasting high.  The affects of the drug can last for up to 12 hours.  People that use methamphetamine become addicted quickly.  The addiction causes people to use the drug with increasing frequency and in larger amounts.

Methamphetamine is illegally manufactured in the United States.  It is made with highly corrosive materials.  The acids in methamphetamine corrode the teeth and mouth.  Tooth decay is further accelerated because the drug causes a reduction in protective saliva formation.  This can lead to dry mouth.  To relieve dry mouth, and because the drug tends to cause cravings for sweets, users typically consume highly sweetened foods and beverages.  They may eat large amounts of sugary foods, such as candy, and drink large amounts of soda pop.  The drug's acidity, dry mouth, large consumption of carbohydrates, and poor oral health habits while using the drug all contribute to accelerated tooth decay.

Tooth decay caused by methamphetamine presents a distinctive pattern of decay.  It tends to affect the flat part of the front teeth and the spaces located between the front teeth first, although all of the teeth can be damaged.  The decay from methamphetamine is devastating.  It can cause teeth to discolor, darken, and turn black.  Teeth may break, rot, fall out, or need to be removed.  Meth mouth can even cause some people to loose all of their teeth.

People that use methamphetamine have an increased tendency to grind and clench their teeth.  Teeth grinding is a condition called bruxism.  Bruxism can damage the teeth, gums, and jaw.  It can cause cracked, broken, and loose teeth.  Bruxism can also lead to jaw popping and jaw disorders.

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Symptoms
Your child is at risk for developing meth mouth if he or she uses methamphetamine.  Using this drug can cause your child’s teeth to decay, discolor, break, and fall out or need to be removed.  The deterioration may begin at your child’s front teeth and become more widespread, involving all of the teeth.  Your child may grind his or her teeth or clench his or her jaw.  This may especially occur while your child sleeps.  Your child may experience damaged teeth or jaw problems because of bruxism.

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Diagnosis
Your dentist can diagnose dental changes related to methamphetamine use by reviewing your child’s dental history, medical history, and performing a dental examination.  You should tell your dentist about your child’s drug use.  If you do not want to tell your dentist about your child’s drug use, your child should visit your dentist anyway at the first signs of tooth decay or related problems.  Early detection and prompt treatment can possibly save your child’s teeth.

Your dentist will examine your child’s teeth and gums.  X-rays will be used to identify changes in your child’s teeth, gums, and bones.  Cracks in teeth may not show up on X-rays.  Your dentist may use other examination methods to detect tooth cracks including the use of special dyes and instruments.

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Treatment
Treatment for oral decay resulting from methamphetamine use depends on the severity and extent of your child’s condition.  Your dentist can correct minor tooth decay and cavities with fillings.  Your dentist may apply a protective dental sealant to your child’s teeth as a preventive measure.
More extensive decay may require root canal therapy, crowns, or tooth extraction.  Your dentist can create artificial teeth or dentures if your child experiences tooth loss.  Your dentist may recommend that your child wear a mouthguard at night as a preventive measure for bruxism.
 
Stopping use of the drug can prevent the devastating affects of methamphetamine.  If your child needs help to quit methamphetamine use, ask your dentist or doctor for a referral to a specialist and services that can help.  Your dentist and the specialists will gladly support your child’s decision to quit.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.