Meth Mouth


It’s been weeks now since AMC’s hit TV show Breaking Bad ended its sixth and final season. This popular drama followed the criminal descent of Walter White, who went from pushover high school chemistry teacher to brutal meth manufacturing kingpin.

Just in time for Halloween, and for fans who are missing their weekly fix of the show, its a suitable time to talk about meth mouth. For dentists and patients alike, the real-life effect of this drug is one of the most frightening sights around.

A Dental Horror Story

Meth mouth is a condition known to afflict regular users of the street drug methamphetamine.  One of the drug’s more pernicious side-effects includes rapid onset of tooth decay. In a matter of months hard enamel surfaces grow soft, and healthy teeth turn gray and brown and rot away.

Many patients show up at clinics with nothing more than tiny black stubs in their mouth where their teeth once had been. Dentists say a meth user often has a mouth that looks as if someone took a hammer to the teeth, causing indiscriminate shattering and decay.

It Affects Us All

If you are not a drug user, you probably think you don’t need to worry about such information, but you’re wrong. Meth mouth is a health issue that affects us all. Based on recent data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, illegal meth labs are increasing at significant rates, particularly in the South and Midwest. Data from 2010 estimates that in Texas alone there were at least 153 clandestine labs producing this dangerous drug.  The economic cost to our society is enormous, with an estimated $16 to $48 billion dollars spent annually on health care, crime and judicial processing of meth users.

No exact causes

Making this problem even worse, many dentists are unsure why methamphetamine use is so destructive for teeth. Possibly the chemical composition of meth is to blame. It’s a very toxic and corrosive substance, and some of its key ingredients include red phosphorus and lithium—the very same things used to make boxes of matches and car batteries.

Look for the signs

Users at risk for developing meth mouth often exhibit the following symptoms: Dry mouth: Meth use reduces the production of saliva, and this in turn leaves the oral cavity at greater risk for bacterial infection.  The highly stimulating properties of the drug also produce excessive teeth grinding, or bruxism. This often leads to cracked teeth.  Moreover, users often stay awake for days, foregoing their normal routines and neglecting regular brushings.  Another side effect of meth use is excessive sugar consumption, which helps accelerate tooth decay even more.

Devastating effects

The bad news for meth users is that little can be done to reverse the damage once it has begun. By the time meth mouth sets in, dentists can do little to salvage the affected teeth and must resort to extraction. Many dentists report that most patients end up losing the majority of their teeth, and the only option available are the use of dentures.  For teenagers and young adults patients, the recommendation of dentures can be a particularly devastating one.

R.I.P. to the fictional Walter White and his meth empire. The show is now over for good, but back in the real world, dentists and patients alike will continue to deal with the all too real effects of this devastating drug for years to come.

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