Use, as well as 'meth mouth,' on the rise

It's cheap, addictive and can harm your smile for life. Its use is also rapidly increasing both nationally and world-wide. It is methamphetamine. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 12 million Americans age 12 and older reported they had tried methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) advises it is imperative that the public and dental professionals learn about the severe oral health effects the drug is having on many users' mouths.

According to a report that will appear in the November/December 2006 issue of General Dentistry, the AGD's clinical, peer-reviewed journal, methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that produces prolonged euphoria and is relatively easy to make, inexpensive to purchase and distribute. Its use is on the rise and can have serious adverse affects on one's oral health, including highly visible widespread cavities and rampant decay.

Meth abuse patients may have a higher tolerance for anesthetics, experience unpleasant effects due to drug interactions or have anxiety regarding dental treatment which combined with meth use can cause serious problems. Their teeth have been described as "blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling, or falling apart," according to information in the study obtained from the American Dental Association (ADA). Some teeth are in such poor condition that they are unsalvageable and must be extracted.

Use of the drug also can decrease saliva due to the dry mouth many suffer from. To provide relief from "cotton mouth", many meth users drink vast daily amounts of carbonated sugared soft drinks, says lead author Gary D. Klasser, DMD, Cert.Orofacial Pain. He also says that many users lose interest in maintaining good oral hygiene habits, and will stop brushing and flossing their teeth.

Eric Z. Shapira, MS, DDS, MAGD, MA and AGD spokesperson explains, "Meth users have no sense of time or the importance of helping themselves, especially with doing regular dental care; both at home and professionally. Lack of dental care leads to many oral diseases, but primarily periodontal disease and tooth decay."

Also, being a stimulant, meth can cause increased motor activity which induces excessive chewing, tooth grinding or clenching, furthering the oral problems associated with the drug use.

Management of meth mouth:

  • Identify the problem and seek professional assistance for the substance abuse

  • Patients should avoid diuretics such as caffeine, tobacco and alcoholic beverages

  • Patients should use fluoride products to reduce the risk of cavities

  • Establishing more frequent visits to ensure the maintenance of oral health

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The Academy of General Dentistry is a non-profit organization of more than 35,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up-to-date in the profession through continuing education. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patient's oral health needs. Learn more about AGD member dentists or find more information on dental health topics at www.agd.org/consumer.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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