The Hard Truth about Methamphetamines and Oral Health

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

Our focal point today will be 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 and excessive tooth decay (“Meth Mouth”) in most individuals abusing Meth for long periods of time.The causes of such decay are most commonly dry mouth (xerostomia) and long periods of lousy oral hygiene. Meth itself is also very acidic, lowering the pH of the oral cavity. Dry mouth in any population is a huge risk factor for cavities to dwell.  If appropriate care is not taken to correct the effects of dry mouth, decay will advance very quickly. If a patient is in recovery and ready to restore their teeth, there are many steps we can take to get them started. First of all, adding a high concentration source of sodium fluoride is essential. This fluoride treatment 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 like new. In this case Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) may be the best alternative. SDF is applied topically and is authorized for use as a desensitizing agent. The extra perk to SDF is that it has also been shown to capture and stop dental caries. In conjunction with ordinary sodium fluoride use, we can establish a short term plan to control rampant and spreading tooth decay. Your dentist and hygienist will develop an individualized plan based on your personal needs and desires specific to you. Restoring your oral health can seem like a long road, but we will be with you every step of the way.

Other components to look at are our 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 remission. We will also discuss the impact that diet has on your oral health, as high sugar diets can accelerate cavities. There is no one size fits all exemplary here, and we will help you with any and all modifiable risk factors to reduce your future cavities.

We know that the result of rampant decay can leave many feeling embarrassed 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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