When you go to the post office you try to avoid smiling at the clerk as you purchase some stamps. When you go for a walk around your neighborhood you worry neighbors might think you’re rude since you never smile at them. Maybe you feel very relieved that current events let you hide your smile behind a mask.
Meth addiction has many consequences, and meth mouth is just one way your life can be affected by meth use.
If you find you are overly critical of yourself and feeling highly insecure about your smile and interactions with others, recovery is always possible. Meth mouth often receives lots of negative press and there is a lot of stigma around it. For example, you might recall being shown pictures of meth mouth in your middle school drug education class. These photos and curriculum tracks built up lots of fear around discussing these issues.
At Pathways Recovery, we approach addiction treatment in a holistic manner. We’re not concerned with labels or judgments about what your current dental health looks like. We know all our clients are unique, worthy individuals who deserve the opportunity to start living a healthier life and building a future they look forward to.
One of the best ways to tackle misinformation and snap judgments about this condition is to get a better understanding of what meth mouth is and how it happens.
So, What Exactly Is Meth Mouth?
Not all substance use incurs such obvious physical changes in an individual, but frequent methamphetamine use does. Frequent meth use can cause one’s face to age, becoming more sunken and wrinkled than other people of the same age, and also create meth sores that are picked at and infected.
Continued use also causes rotting of teeth and gums, sometimes eating away at teeth until they become small black nubs or fall out completely. As you might imagine, rotting gums and teeth open up an individual to a higher chance of contracting a gum disease. This wasting away of gums and teeth is what is referred to as meth mouth.
Common signs and symptoms of meth mouth include
- Dry mouth (xerostomia)
- Cracked teeth, missing teeth, teeth that fall out
- Gum disease
- Teeth grinding or clenching the teeth
- Cavities, including micro-cavities
- Black, rotting teeth
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen gums
A publication from the Journal of the American Dental Association, which studied a group of 571 meth users, reported that
- 6% of older meth users had fewer than 10 teeth
- 23% still had all of their natural teeth
- 31% were missing six or more teeth
- 40% admitted that they were embarrassed about their dental appearance
- 96% had tooth decay
From these reports, it is evident that a significant portion of individuals who use meth will likely experience some degree of tooth decay and put themselves at risk for more serious decay. The seriousness of this condition explains why proper medical attention and meth treatment is necessary to help a person improve both their dental and overall health.
When dealing with primary physicians and dentists, you should strive to be as open as possible about meth use. This way, your medical team can better understand your situation and react appropriately with treatment.
Now, let’s examine why meth mouth exists at all. What exactly is it about meth use that causes this dental decay?
Why Meth Addiction Leads to Meth Mouth
There are a variety of reported reasons that explain why this condition can occur in an individual who uses meth. One proposed reason acknowledges that many of the common chemicals in meth are toxic and damaging to the teeth.
Meth is made from a variety of ingredients, including some ordinary household items. However, these items can also be toxic and are not items you would want to ingest. For example, meth ingredients can include chemicals extracted from matchboxes, fertilizers, or battery acid. These toxic substances can destroy the surface of your teeth.
Dry mouth is another common side effect of meth use. When someone uses meth and experiences dry mouth, that means their saliva production has been compromised. Saliva is important because it can neutralize your mouth’s natural acids. Without as much saliva available, your body’s natural acids and bacteria begin to eat away at your teeth and gradually wear them down. Dry saliva glands can also encourage increased bacterial production, thereby making the situation worse.
Because meth can inhibit your body’s ability to heal itself, the damage can quickly add up. Tooth decay leaves your teeth more vulnerable to cavities. Many people dismiss cavities as not being that big of a deal. However, meth can also create a desire to eat sugary foods, grind teeth, and neglect proper dental hygiene practices. When a poor diet, cavities, and bad hygiene are put together, these problems only speed up and support more extreme tooth and gum decay.
Additionally, meth causes your blood vessels to shrink, making it more difficult for blood to properly flow to damaged areas of the body. For example, getting a small cut might hurt and bleed for a little bit, but a healthy individual’s body will eventually create blood clots at the injury site. This is why your small cuts don’t just keep bleeding. The body reacts to stop more blood loss and begin healing itself. You may notice that some movies or TV shows make use of characters who get worried when they get a small cut because their body can’t properly clot blood. This condition is known as hemophilia.
In a frequent meth user, shrinking blood vessels means less access to heal areas like the gums and other oral tissue. Gradually, these begin to deteriorate from a combination of bacteria, acid, and lack of blood flow to the area.
Are The Effects of Meth Mouth Reversible?
The next question many people ask at this point is, is it possible to reverse the consequences of meth mouth?
Although we wish it were very easy to treat or even reverse the effects of meth mouth, the reality is that it is a bit more complicated. However, you ought to approach this situation with a cautious optimism. A complete reversal and restoration of teeth and gums may not be possible, or achievable in a short period of time, but there are treatment options that can help. You won’t have to walk around the rest of your life feeling self-conscious about your smile or worrying about continued decay.
Now, the steps toward treating meth mouth depend on each individual case. Those who are already experiencing tooth and gum decay are unlikely to be able to reverse these effects. The damage is usually done in this case.
Unfortunately, adults only have one set of teeth, so losing teeth will require artificial replacement. But this also means that you won’t have to go around with gaps in your teeth. A dental professional can advise you on the best route of action.
If your teeth and gums are just beginning to exhibit symptoms of decay, you may be able to reverse the effects by practicing good dental hygiene and also quitting meth use.
It’s common for treatment to involve the removal of any teeth that are in a state of decay. Once the affected teeth are removed, a person can focus on trying to return to normal saliva production and ensuring future dental health through proper care.
It is always recommended to seek dental assistance as soon as possible. Addressing tooth and gum decay early on is always easier than addressing it later, especially given that the effects of meth mouth are notoriously hard to reverse once they have developed.
Seeking assistance before teeth begin to fall out will maximize your chances of heading off the really foul effects of meth mouth. By getting care earlier, you’re helping your health and taking charge of your recovery experience.
So to sum up: no, meth mouth cannot always be reversed. It is a possibility if the decay is only just beginning, though. Keep in mind going forward, quitting meth use will also be a big help to saving your smile.
As you continue moving forward and seeking to make positive and healthy changes in your life, know that taking charge of your health and recovery journey is the best thing you can do for yourself. Whether you are seeking assistance for meth addiction for yourself or a loved one, options are available to you, and we’re here to help!
At Pathways Recovery, we know that the physical side effects of an addiction to meth can also cause emotional harm. If you are experiencing tooth or gum decay because of a meth addiction, you may feel embarrassed and find yourself pushing others away. We’re here to welcome you into our holistic treatment program that is all about helping you regain control over your life. You have the power to turn your life around. Make the call today to help yourself move towards a healthier future. Call (916) 435-7279 to speak with one of our qualified counselors.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get meth mouth?
The ADA reports that it is possible for a user of meth to go from normal, healthy teeth to decaying teeth (“meth mouth”) within a year.
How to get rid of meth mouth?
If the decay has not progressed very far, it may be possible to reverse the effects of meth mouth by stopping meth use and focusing on practicing very good dental hygiene. If the decay is more severe, treatment usually consists of removing rotting teeth and installing artificial teeth in their place.
What does meth mouth look like?
Depending on the stage of decay, meth mouth can make teeth appear stained, blackened, or rotten. As the teeth become more damaged, they can be worn down into nubs as they are eaten away by bacteria and acid.