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Meth and Dental Health: the Damaging Effects on Teeth and Gums


Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Methamphetamine (usually shortened to meth) is one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the US. Meth is cheap, easy to make, and produces a long-lasting high. Methamphetamine’s street names are “speed,” “ice,” “crank,” “glass,” and “crystal,” among others.

Quick Facts About Methamphetamine

Meth is a powerful and addictive central nervous system stimulant, classified by the FDA as a Schedule II drug because of its high potential for misuse and psychological or physical dependence. Overuse can cause brain damage, permanent injury, and death. Meth usually comes as a powder that dissolves in water or alcohol or a clear crystal that is smoked, but it can also be snorted, injected, or ingested.

Methamphetamine and its Effects on Dental Health

Methamphetamine also severely affects dental and oral health, so much so that the damage is widely known as “meth mouth.” Sometimes called “crank decay,” meth mouth is characterized by severe tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health issues.

Healthy teeth and gums are essential to overall health and well-being. Anything that makes chewing, eating, and salivating difficult will have an impact down the line. The extreme tooth decay caused by meth not only interferes with proper nutrition but can also cause pain, make users avoid certain foods, and affect the sense of taste. Meth mouth is often socially embarrassing because of its effects on breath and the appearance of teeth.

Methamphetamine causes the brain to release the “feel good” neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin — causing feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Short-term side effects include:

  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased respiration
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors

Long-term use can bring on weight loss, stroke, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. Meth can also cause cerebral edema and hemorrhage.

Meth decreases salivary flow, causing a dry mouth condition called xerostomia. Reduced saliva allows plaque and bacteria to build up, speeding tooth decay and the formation of cavities. Xerostomia may contribute to gum inflammation, bleeding, and infections. Meth damages the blood vessels that provide oxygen to the gums, increasing the likelihood of gingivitis/periodontitis and missing or fractured teeth.

Meth use is associated with bruxism (teeth grinding), involuntary jaw clenching, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), and facial pain. Bruxism can cause severe wear in the protective enamel of the teeth, to which even chewing soft food can cause teeth to crack or break. Many meth users suck on lollipops to prevent grinding.

Recognizing the Damaging Effects on Teeth and Gums

Meth users develop sugar cravings and tend to drink a lot of sweet carbonated beverages, which also contribute to dental problems. They generally don’t practice good oral hygiene, leading to periodontal disease or destroying the bone that supports the teeth. Meth shrinks the blood vessels that bring blood to oral tissue, causing it to break down over time. Meth is acidic, so the mouth becomes highly prone to cavities when combined with sugar and poor oral hygiene.

Meth mouth generally progresses as follows:

  • bad breath, gum inflammation, cavity formation in the front teeth
  • increasing decay, gum recession, soreness of the lips
  • extensive gum disease, tooth loss, severe decay

Meth users tend to avoid dental care because of the fear of their abuse being recognized, embarrassment, or the fact that they may not feel the pain of tooth decay because of meth’s ability to block or reduce pain.

It is not uncommon for a dentist to detect meth mouth during regular dental exams. Signs include unexpected amounts of (or accelerated) tooth decay, distinctive decay patterns on the smooth surfaces of the teeth (which gives them a blackened, stained, or rotting appearance), tooth sensitivity, and inflamed, receding, or bleeding gums. Users who smoke meth may get burns on their lips, gums, cheeks, or palate. Snorting can cause burns in the back of the throat.

Ways To Prevent “Meth Mouth”

Stopping meth usage is the only effective way to prevent meth mouth. Regular dental care can help stop severe dental problems, and practicing good oral hygiene (brushing and flossing regularly, avoiding sugars, staying hydrated) can help lessen its impact. Dentists can mitigate damage with root canals, veneers, crowns, implants, or other appropriate solutions to restore damaged teeth.

In Summary

Methamphetamine use can be devastating to dental health. It causes severe tooth decay, loss of teeth, gum diseases, and many other oral health problems. The damage is usually permanent, but meth’s dangers are much more than just meth mouth — it significantly affects individuals’ physical and mental health.

Dental professionals should make themselves aware of the signs of meth mouth and how to treat it best. They should suggest that the patient discuss possible causes with their doctor. Dentists should become integral to the patient’s care team and work closely with the patient and their medical or recovery professionals.

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We take pride in providing a high level of treatment and a holistic approach to recovery for those who suffer from addiction. Our comfortable facility is designed with the client’s needs foremost in mind. Our staff includes master’s level counselors, licensed chemical dependency counselors, 24-hour nursing professionals, a staff psychiatrist, a staff chef, and direct care personnel. Our counseling staff provides individualized treatment and care for our clients, emphasizing tailoring treatment to each individual’s specific needs. Additionally, our staff provides family counseling, relapse prevention, life skills, and grief and trauma counseling.

Let us help you or someone you love overcome methamphetamine addiction. Contact us today to learn more.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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