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Updated on January 20, 2023
5 min read

Meth Mouth

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Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or simply meth, is an extremely addictive drug. Using meth can lead to severe health problems, including a group of dental diseases collectively known as ‘meth mouth.’

What is Meth Mouth?

Meth mouth is characterized by serious tooth decay and gum disease, according to the Journal of the American Dental Association.2 It’s one of the most noticeable physical changes that result from chronic methamphetamine use.

Without dental care, severe tooth decay can make teeth look stained or rotten. Teeth can break, crumble, and eventually fall out.

A study examining the mouths of 571 meth users found that:2

This study found that tooth decay and gum disease were more common in meth users who were women, over age 30, or cigarette smokers. And the more meth a person used, the worse their oral health was.2

back perspective of young man scaled

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Meth Mouth?

Early stages of meth mouth typically involve bad breath, swollen gums, and cavities. The front teeth are usually the first to show signs of dental decay. 

Over time, meth mouth may include the following signs and symptoms1:

  • Severe tooth decay
  • Gum disease (periodontitis and gingivitis)
  • Carious lesions (microcavities)
  • Broken, cracked, or crumbling teeth
  • Blackened, stained, or rotting teeth
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Bruxism (tooth grinding)
  • Lockjaw
  • Sores and lesions on the lips and around the mouth

Often, dentists cannot save teeth damaged by meth mouth; extraction is the only option.

What Causes Meth Mouth?

Chronic methamphetamine use damages your teeth in many ways. The extensive tooth decay of meth mouth is likely caused by a combination of factors.

Chemicals in Meth

The chemicals in meth—including battery acid, drain cleaner, and antifreeze—are acidic. This means the drug itself eats away at your tooth enamel. Without a protective layer of enamel, teeth decay more quickly.

Dry Mouth

Another factor of meth mouth to consider is xerostomia, otherwise known as intense dry mouth. 

Saliva helps protect your teeth and maintain healthy enamel. Meth dries out the salivary glands, so the mouth produces more bacteria. The bacteria eventually rots the teeth. With time, this can lead to gum disease.

Sugar Cravings

While high, meth users often crave candy and sugary drinks like soda. Often, sugary foods are the only things people who use meth want to eat.

Poor nutrition can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Untreated cavities can result in nerve damage, tooth damage, and abscesses in the mouth.

Without the right nutrients, like vitamin C or iron, the body can’t heal properly. As a result, people experiencing meth mouth may endure extreme pain due to lesions or abscesses that cannot fully recover.

Jaw Clenching and Teeth Grinding

Meth is a stimulant that causes activeness and alertness. People who use meth can become hyperactive and even paranoid. This highly alert state can cause a person to grind their teeth without realizing it.

The added pressure of grinding and clenching can cause weakened teeth to break, chip, or fall out. 

Poor Oral Hygiene

People with addictions usually focus all their attention on the drug. Unfortunately, this means healthy habits like oral hygiene are no longer a concern.

Other Ways Meth Affects the Body

Meth can severely damage a person’s overall health. Short-term effects of meth addiction can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tremors

Over time, meth use can cause:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Violent behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Delusions and hallucinations

Can Dentists Reverse Meth Mouth?

Meth mouth is not reversible. When oral symptoms show, it’s usually too late to reverse or repair the damage. 

However, people recovering from methamphetamine addiction often pursue cosmetic dental treatments. Cosmetic dentistry can help improve your smile and boost your confidence.

Treatment for Meth Mouth

To treat meth mouth, a patient should undergo both methamphetamine addiction treatment and professional dental treatment. After recovery, regular exams can help to maintain good dental health.

Dental Treatment

Once a patient is on the path to recovery from meth substance abuse problems, a dentist can make recommendations for fixing their smile. Depending on the extent of corrosion and decay, treatment may include:

Dental Crowns

Crowns may be an option if only a few teeth need restoration. A crown is a protective cap that covers a severely damaged or decayed tooth.

Dental Implants

A dental implant is the only way to replace a missing tooth and root. It comprises a surgically implanted screw connected to a post and topped by a crown.

Veneers

Dental veneers are thin, custom-fitted shells that cover your teeth. They can fix stained, chipped, and broken teeth. 

Dentures

People with severe meth mouth may need full dentures. These can replace all the teeth in the mouth.

Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment

It is essential to find treatment for methamphetamine addiction to fix meth mouth. Detox is a suggested treatment option to help get the body to a meth-free state.

A person can have a higher chance of recovery with the care of medical professionals. Facilities have therapists, doctors, nurses, and staff to supervise patients seeking recovery from drug use problems.

Following inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation at a treatment facility, there are also support groups to attend to focus on maintaining sobriety.

Recovering from meth addiction can be a challenging journey, but it does not have to be. Various resources are available to help find treatment programs and reach sobriety if you or a loved one requires help.

Summary

Meth mouth is extensive tooth decay and gum disease caused by methamphetamine use. Early signs of meth mouth include cavities, bad breath, and swollen gums. Without treatment, meth mouth can lead to tooth loss.

Studies show that the more people use meth, the worse their oral health symptoms are. Meth mouth is irreversible, so the sooner a person seeks treatment, the less damage to their dental health.

Treatment options for meth mouth include crowns, dental implants, veneers, and dentures. Addiction treatment should accompany dental treatment to ensure improved oral health.

Last updated on January 20, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 20, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Hiu, L, et al. “Understanding the Basis of METH Mouth Using a Rodent Model of Methamphetamine Injection, Sugar Consumption, and Streptococcus mutans Infection.” Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 2021.
  2. Shetty, V, et al. "Dental Disease Patterns in Methamphetamine Users: Findings in a Large Urban Sample." Journal of the American Dental Association, 2015.
  3. Pabst, A, et al. “Meth Mouth—A Growing Epidemic in Dentistry?” Dentistry Journal, 2017.
  4. De-Carolis, C, et al. “Methamphetamine abuse and "meth mouth" in Europe.” Medicina Oral Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal, 2015.
  5. Brown, RE, et al. “Meth mouth severity in response to drug-use patterns and dental access in methamphetamine users.” Journal of the California Dental Association, 2013.
  6. Ravenel, MC, et al. “Methamphetamine abuse and oral health: a pilot study of "meth mouth".” Quintessence International, 2012.
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