Meth Mouth

erica medical reviewer
Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Ellie Swain
Written by
Ellie Swain
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Evidence Based
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6 sources cited
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What is Meth Mouth?

‘Meth mouth’ is caused by using methamphetamine, otherwise known as meth. Meth is a very addictive drug.

The drug is a stimulant, meaning it can enhance mood, boost energy, and make you feel more alert.1 However, it has severe and dangerous effects. Using it can lead to addiction. 

Meth use can also ruin your teeth, hence the name ‘meth mouth.’

How Does Meth Damage Your Teeth?

While using meth, people typically crave sugary drinks like soda. They may also go for long periods without looking after their teeth. This combination can result in severe tooth decay.

Unfortunately, many people who battle addiction do not consider their dental health.

Common effects on the mouth from meth use include:

  • Brown or blackened teeth
  • Stained teeth
  • Tooth decay
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth that may need to be removed
  • Gum disease
  • Dry mouth
  • Jaw muscle and joint pain

In some situations, the teeth can become so bad that the damage cannot be reversed. Instead, the teeth must be removed.

A NIDA-funded study consisting of more than 500 people who repeatedly used meth discovered that 96 percent experienced dental cavities and 58 percent had untreated tooth decay.2

Only 23 percent of the sample retained all their natural teeth, compared to a teeth retention rate of 48 percent among the United States general population. The study found that the more meth an individual used, the more likely they were to have untreated tooth decay.2

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Meth Mouth?

Meth mouth is characterized by serious tooth decay and gum disease. This often causes teeth to fall out or break. The teeth of chronic meth drug users are typically blackened, rotting, stained, crumbling, and falling apart. 

The severe tooth decay in these individuals is likely due to a mixture of drug-induced psychological and physiological damage occurring in dry mouth and extended periods of poor oral hygiene.

Symptoms and side effects of meth mouth include1:

  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Cracked teeth, loose teeth, or missing teeth 
  • Lockjaw 
  • Bad breath
  • Dental diseases, like gum disease, gingivitis, and periodontal disease
  • Carious lesions (micro-cavities) 
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching) 
  • Black rotting teeth 

What Causes Meth Mouth?

A person may develop meth mouth for many reasons. For many meth users suffering from substance use problems, poor dental health, nutrition habits, and a lack of regular dental maintenance can be factors.

Poor dental hygiene can occur from forgetting to brush teeth or consuming sugary foods with meth use. Usually, meth abusers maintain poor diets and may look for sodas and sweets that damage their enamel. This practice is commonly called buzzing.

Smoking meth and eating sugary items also contribute to cavities. Untreated cavities can result in nerve damage, tooth damage, and abscesses in the mouth.

In many cases, dental hygiene may seem unimportant if a person is focusing on their addiction. 

Without eating the right nutrients, like vitamin C or iron, the body’s ability to heal itself is affected. As a result, people experiencing meth mouth may endure extreme pain due to lesions or abscesses that cannot fully recover.

Teeth grinding while high on meth may also lead to chipped teeth in the mouth. The acidic elements of meth erode and weaken teeth, so they are easier to break. Chemicals found in meth, such as battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fluid, and antifreeze, also destroy the body, corroding the mouth.

Another factor of meth mouth to consider is xerostomia, otherwise known as intense dry mouth. Meth dries out the salivary glands, so the mouth produces more bacteria. As a result, the bacteria eventually rots the teeth. With time, this can lead to gum decay.

Other Ways Meth Affects the Body

Meth mouth occurring from drug abuse can severely damage a person’s overall health, adversely affecting the entire body.

As well as blood-borne infections from bacteria and open wounds in the mouth, meth abuse can also lead to:

  • Premature delivery 
  • Hyperthermia 
  • Convulsions 
  • Heart issues
  • Risk for HIV and hepatitis 
  • Lead poisoning 
  • Stroke 
  • Brain damage 
  • Meth mite itching (itching resulting from nerve sensitivity)

There are significant psychological effects that result from meth use, such as paranoia and aggression. These mental health problems can affect a person’s quality of life. Meth abuse leads to life-threatening health problems that must be treated immediately.

Can Dentists Reverse Meth Mouth?

Many people ask whether it is possible to reverse the effects of meth mouth. The answer is complicated.

A complete restoration and reversal of the teeth and gums may not be possible or achievable quickly. However, other treatment options can help. The steps toward treating meth mouth vary depending on the individual case.

Individuals who are already experiencing severe tooth and gum decay resulting from methamphetamine abuse are unlikely to reverse these effects. Adults only have one set of teeth, so losing teeth necessitates artificial replacement.

If your teeth and gums are just starting to show signs of decay, you may be able to reverse the effects by following good dental hygiene and receiving treatment for meth addiction.

In many cases of meth mouth, it is common for treatment to involve removing any state that is decayed. Once the decayed teeth are extracted, the individual can focus on returning to normal saliva production and receiving proper dental health care in the future.

A dental professional can advise you on the best treatment and route of action to fix your teeth the best they can. 

Treatment Options for Meth Mouth

To treat meth mouth, a patient should undergo both methamphetamine addiction treatment and professional dental treatment.

Professional 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. 

There are many routes a dentist can take to address the dental issues linked with meth mouth.

A dentist may fix stained teeth with veneers. They can also replace missing teeth with prosthetic devices, like dentures or implants. Cavities can be filled, and a mouthguard can be used to assist with teeth grinding.

When treating individuals with meth mouth, dentists may use preventive measures such as topical fluorides to look after the teeth in the long term. Each person’s needs and concerns are different, so your dentist will help develop a long-term, unique treatment plan.

One of the most critical factors for practicing good oral health is following a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle includes good dietary choices and daily brushing and flossing. Practicing these simple habits helps you prevent further dental problems.

Be sure to find a dentist you can trust and speak with about your goals to help you restore confidence in your smile.

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 patient can have a higher chance of recovery within the care of medical professionals. Facilities have therapists, doctors, nurses, and staff to supervise patients seeking recovery from their 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. There are various resources available to help find treatment programs and reach sobriety if you or a loved one requires help.

Resources

What is meth mouth?, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), https://teens.drugabuse.gov/what-meth-mouth 

NIDA. "High rates of dental and gum disease occur among methamphetamine users." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 23 Nov. 2015, https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2015/11/high-rates-dental-gum-disease-occur-among-methamphetamine-users 

Pabst, Andreas et al. “Meth Mouth-A Growing Epidemic in Dentistry?.” Dentistry journal vol. 5,4 29. 30 Oct. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5806971/ 

De-Carolis, Carlo et al. “Methamphetamine abuse and "meth mouth" in Europe.” Medicina oral, patologia oral y cirugia bucal vol. 20,2 e205-10. 1 Mar. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4393984/ 

Brown, Ronni E et al. “Meth mouth severity in response to drug-use patterns and dental access in methamphetamine users.” Journal of the California Dental Association vol. 41,6 (2013): 421-8, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23875434/

Ravenel, Michele C et al. “Methamphetamine abuse and oral health: a pilot study of "meth mouth".” Quintessence international (Berlin, Germany : 1985) vol. 43,3 (2012): 229-37, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22299123/

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