In this article
Drug addiction and abuse are global issues. Drug abuse refers to taking illegal or legal substances, such as alcohol, excessively or improperly. Some examples include binge drinking or taking drugs recreationally beyond their medical use.
Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to various health complications, including serious oral health problems. Unless you stop taking these substances and receive help for withdrawal, you’re at risk of staying in a cycle of deteriorating health.
In this article, we discuss the different effects of abusing nicotine, alcohol, and drugs and how each one affects your oral health.
Nicotine and tobacco, in particular, can have a drastic influence on your oral health. It’s a highly addictive chemical and one of the leading causes of disease and death in the U.S. It’s present in:
About 34 million adults in the country smoke cigarettes, and over 16 million cigarette smokers suffer from smoking-related diseases.8 The serious oral health conditions smoking induces include the following:
Tobacco products contain chemicals that decrease saliva flow. If the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, plaque builds up faster and is harder to remove.
Plaque is a sticky bacterial layer that triggers an inflammatory response in the gums. Unremoved plaque turns into calculus (tartar), which is hardened plaque.
Only a dentist can remove tartar. Over time, unremoved plaque and tartar result in cavities and gum disease.
Similar to plaque buildup, smokers are more likely to develop dry mouth (xerostomia). It’s a less severe oral condition when the mouth’s salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva.
Tobacco and nicotine slow down how quickly the mouth makes saliva. This can result in the following conditions:
Smoking on its own doesn't result in gum disease. However, long-term smoking contributes to dry mouth. Dry mouth leads to increased plaque and calculus buildup, which can lead to gum disease.
Over time, gingivitis (reversible gum disease) or periodontal disease can form. It results in permanent bone loss and, eventually, tooth loss.
The following can lead to chronic bad breath:
There’s no single solution to treating halitosis. However, most people can cure it by changing their lifestyle and oral hygiene routines.
Tobacco is the leading cause of oral cancer in adults. About 90 percent of people with oral cancer use tobacco.10
This type of cancer can affect the following:
Smokers have "masked" or "silent" gum disease. Nicotine reduces blood flow, resulting in less sensitive gums and minor bleeding.
Drinking alcohol occasionally and moderately should have a minimal and temporary impact on your overall health. However, an unhealthy habit of drinking can compromise your health through short- and long-term effects.
Excessive consumption of alcohol negatively impacts the following:
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various minor and long-term effects on your oral health.
Minor oral health conditions that may form due to long-term alcohol consumption include:
More serious oral health conditions that can develop from long-term alcohol abuse and addiction include:
Dental erosion occurs when acidic substances wear away tooth enamel. The condition is irreversible because enamel can’t regrow.
Tooth enamel erosion can result from frequent vomiting and regurgitation caused by alcohol abuse. This is because stomach acid is very acidic.
Consuming acidic alcoholic drinks, such as wine, can also result in erosion over time. This is because most wines have low pH levels, making them acidic.
Poor oral hygiene is a common trait in alcoholics. In addition, alcohol’s drying effect can contribute to plaque formation.
If plaque remains, tartar and dental caries (cavities) develop over time. If the tartar spreads below the gum line, periodontal disease commonly forms. It can cause permanent tooth loss.
Heavy drinking is the second leading cause of oral cancer in adults. People who have at least four drinks a day are about five times more likely to develop mouth or throat cancer than those who never drink or drink moderately.11
Long-term addiction to these drugs can result in serious oral health complications:
Cavities and gum diseases, such as periodontal disease, are more common in users than in non-drug users. This is because people who abuse drugs don’t visit dentists regularly (twice a year). Therefore, they have more plaque buildup on their teeth.
Some drugs, like cocaine, also weaken the immune system. This increases an addict’s risk of developing oral infections.
People who abuse drugs and similar harmful substances are more likely to develop serious oral health conditions. Some substances that can lead to poor oral health include:
If you’re addicted to any of the substances above, you may need to consult an addiction specialist to help you stay sober. Otherwise, you will start experiencing the detrimental effects of these substances on your body.
Similar to tobacco and nicotine, drug addiction can lead to:
In addition, long-term drug addiction can cause:
Bruxism is the habit of grinding teeth while sleeping or throughout the day. It affects about 90 percent of the U.S. population.12
Some children outgrow the habit, while others don’t. Certain drugs that may cause teeth grinding include psychotropics (psychoactive drugs), including:
Drug users are less likely to visit their doctor or take care of themselves generally. Once they’re dependent on a substance, they only care about getting more of that drug.
As a result, people who use drugs may not brush their teeth regularly. They also typically only eat inexpensive foods that are high in sugar.
Depending on the drug, some users stop eating altogether, resulting in malnutrition. All of these factors lead to poor dental health, including:
People can misuse drugs in several ways, from snorting to rubbing the substance on gums. The latter is performed because it allows faster drug absorption into the bloodstream.
While some drug addicts don’t directly apply drugs to their mouths, their oral health may still be affected regardless of the method of using the drug.
Some commonly used drugs that harm the oral cavity include:
Frequent cocaine users are more likely to develop oral infections because the drug has immunosuppressive effects. These effects weaken the immune system.
Cocaine users have a higher chance of developing:
Ecstasy is an amphetamine or a psychoactive drug. It alters bodily sensations and increases energy.
Long-term use of ecstasy can lead to:
Heroin is a synthetic and highly addictive opioid drug. It comes from morphine, a natural opiate.
Addiction to this drug causes poor oral hygiene due to malnutrition. The following are also common in those dependent on heroin:
Chronic addiction to methamphetamine can result in tooth loss and “meth mouth.” The latter involves large cavities, fractured teeth, and poor dental health.
Common signs of meth mouth include:
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a common medical and recreational drug. Frequent cannabis users typically have poorer oral health than non-users.
Cannabis users are more likely to develop:
Long-term addiction or abuse of prescription medication can lead to severe oral conditions, such as cavities, gum diseases, and dry mouth.
Common drugs include:
If you or a loved one is suffering from nicotine, alcohol, or drug addiction, seek treatment immediately. In addition to finding an addiction treatment center and mental health facility, you should also address your oral health problems.
Visit a general dentist or dental specialist as soon as possible to explore your treatment options. They can help with abnormal development of cavities, gum inflammation, sensitive teeth, or unexpected tooth loss, among other symptoms.
Drug addiction can lead to detrimental effects on the body, including complications to oral health. The three most notable addictive substances that affect oral health are nicotine, alcohol, and drugs.
Addiction to these substances can lead to minor dental health issues such as dry mouth or tooth discoloration. However, these can progress to more severe illnesses, such as periodontal disease and oral cancer.
Drug dependence must be treated simultaneously with your oral health problems. Doing so can prevent your addiction symptoms and dental complications from worsening.
In this article