It’s no secret that oral hygiene and drug abuse don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. When in active addiction, caring for your teeth or health, in general, is the last thing on your mind. However, after we find ourselves seeking out recovery, we start to care about these things again. But by then, the damage is done and you have what many people call “drug teeth”.
Poor oral hygiene can have negative impacts on your health. But what about your recovery in general? There is a far more complicated relationship than you may have thought between oral hygiene and drug abuse.
Oral Hygiene and Drug Abuse 101
Before you can truly understand how crucial the relationship between oral hygiene and drug abuse is, you must first understand oral hygiene in general. Oral hygiene is the practice of caring for your teeth and the surrounding support tissues in your mouth. If proper care is afforded to them, they remain healthy.
If not, a whole slew of potentially debilitating and expensive complications can arise. Most dental hygienists suggest brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing at least once. If you don’t clear away the bacteria, it multiplies to unhealthy levels in your mouth and can lead to cavities.
Most addicts don’t put a priority on maintaining their oral hygiene, and thus develop cavities. The problem with cavities is, if you don’t tend to them immediately, they can actually spread and get worse! After several years, you could be looking at multiple root canals or even extractions (getting your teeth removed). This not only costs thousands of dollars but can be very painful.
Many people also fail to realize apart from physical aesthetic purposes, your teeth and mouth are actually the first part of your digestive tract. That means anytime you eat anything, the digestion process begins before you even swallow the food. If you have various pathogenic issues going on in your mouth, it affects your entire digestive system such as your stomach or intestines. Long term internal damage can wreak havoc on your body as a result of poor oral hygiene.
What Are “Drug Teeth”?
Drug teeth are the result of several factors related to drug abuse. The first factor, the one that people tend to think about when they think of drug teeth, is the chemical effect that drugs tend to have on oral hygiene.
The second factor is less well known, and that is the fact that people who abuse drugs tend to neglect personal care altogether, including dental health. These two factors compounded cause tooth decay, neglect, and ultimate destruction, otherwise known as “drug teeth”.
A lackadaisical routine aside, when it comes to oral hygiene and drug abuse, different drugs can actually impact your teeth in different ways. Depending on the type of narcotic and frequency you use it, you can develop various different types of oral hygiene issues. Some narcotics are definitely more insidious than others, however, they all will negatively impact your teeth. No one is exempt.
Many people associate opiates such as heroin or pills with a malnourished appearance. What many people don’t realize is that opiates actually have a serious effect on your oral hygiene, albeit more indirectly than other drugs. Most opiate users do not take care of themselves physically, thus their oral hygiene routine falls to the wayside. Over time, cavities and periodontal disease develop.
The problem with opiates is their pain relieving nature. Many people who use opiates don’t even know they have serious infections brewing inside their mouths due to the lack of pain and discomfort. This allows the problems to fester to even worse conditions.
By the time they realize, it’s too late and oral surgery will be required to fix their “drug teeth”. It’s also worth noting that typically opiates incite intense sugar cravings in users. Sugar is the number one culprit in tooth decay and cavities.
Often thought of as a harmless drug, cannabis has actually been linked to numerous periodontal disorders. The risk of developing oral cancer is directly associated to cannabis usage. This is regardless of whether the individual uses nicotine as well. Cannabis use is also known to cause excessive dry mouth. Many people don’t realize one of the primary functions of saliva is to keep teeth moist and subsequently protect them from cavities. You have a higher likelihood of developing cavities due to dry mouth.
When it comes to oral hygiene and drug abuse, stimulants are the drugs most closely associated with dental problems. Crack cocaine, cocaine, amphetamine, and of course, methamphetamine all comprise the list of the most damaging drugs to one’s teeth.
Cocaine can cause teeth grinding, which wears the surface of your teeth down over time and makes them more susceptible to bacteria. Crack cocaine can cause burns on the lips and mouth allowing for easier transmission of diseases like HIV. It also can cause dry mouth, and cavities may ensue.
Of course, we can’t forget methamphetamine and the notorious “meth mouth“, which is usually the first picture that pops into people’s minds when they think of drug teeth. Due to the acidic nature of the drug, the enamel, or outer covering of the tooth, is worn away after continuous usage. This makes the teeth especially susceptible to infection. Typically, meth mouth is characterized by severe tooth decay and gum disease.
The teeth are often a discolored black hue, rotting, and essentially breaking apart. The devastation of meth on the mouth is overwhelming. Thanks to the added complications of sugar cravings and teeth grinding associated with meth usage, the teeth usually need prompt removal and cannot be salvaged.
Hallucinogens like LSD or mushrooms can cause a myriad of oral health issues as well. Dry mouth, bruxism or tooth grinding, and malnutrition all characterize the effects of the drugs on the mouth. Frequently, users develop issues with their temporomandibular joints (TMJ). This is where the bottom jaw meets the top. This causes difficulties eating and frequent headaches. Overall, hallucinogens also increase the likelihood of developing cavities as well thanks to the craving of carbonated beverages.
5. Club Drugs
Lastly, club drugs like MDMA and ecstasy have negative impacts on your teeth as well. Dry mouth, bruxism, and consumption of sugary drinks or food are often seen among users. A more serious oral health complication is the development of necrosis, or death of cells in organ tissues, on the gums. Users may also experience ulcers or perforation of the palate as a result of ingesting the drug.
Social Side Effects
As if the physical side effects aren’t bad enough, when it comes to oral hygiene and drug abuse, the social ramifications can be even worse. Many people experience noticeable, negative changes in the aesthetic of their teeth. This causes severe anxiety and depression in some people. When we enter recovery, we are encouraged to reach out to other recovering addicts. We need to be able to talk to others and not be afraid of social interaction.
Having “drug teeth” can hold people back from engaging socially and therefore hold them back from recovery. Without the confidence of being able to engage others in conversation, it makes recovery all but impossible. Due to the lack of a support system, these people are especially prone to relapse.
Despite whatever dental issues you may have incurred during active addiction, in recovery we need to start taking care of ourselves. We often hear the phrase “We don’t need to live like that anymore.” This is especially true when it comes to taking care of our teeth. As a part of our recovery routine, putting emphasis on taking care of our teeth is important.
We are supposed to be learning how to be productive members of society, and this includes basic things like brushing our teeth. Taking baby steps can begin to slowly improve our oral health. And as we grow in recovery, we can address these issues over time. It is also important to tell your dentist about any pre-existing addiction issues to avoid being prescribed narcotics during treatment!
Without access to proper dental care, recovering addicts can still be dealing with the effects of drug abuse on their teeth. It’s crucial to your health and your recovery to begin taking steps to proper oral hygiene. It’s never too late to start taking care of your teeth. It can be a long road to recovery from addiction and the toll it’s taken on your body, but it’s worth it. Part of recovery is learning to take care of yourself, mind, body, spirit, and teeth.
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, give Drug Treatment Center Finder a call and let us help you find treatment!