There are many images doing the rounds at the moment showing examples of what is now coined meth mouth. These are photos of mouths with rotting teeth and bleeding gums which are supposedly due to the patient having smoked methamphetamine, otherwise known as crystal or ice. Are these images for real and what are the consequences of smoking crystal on your dental health?
It really is difficult to plough through all of the information that is available on the web about meth mouth. The American information is so out-there and much of what is provided is not referenced so that it is rather unclear what is accurate and what is scare-mongering. There does appear to be increasing evidence based on scientific literature that there is a problem.
Reports from dentists treating crystal users have described rampant tooth decay amongst some of this group. This decay has been attributed to the following: the acidic nature of the drug, the drug’s dry mouth effect, its propensity to cause cravings for high-calorie carbonated beverages, tooth grinding and clenching and binges leading to extended periods of poor oral hygiene.
Let’s have a look at these a little more closely. Firstly, there are a whole range of substances used in methamphetamine manufacturing, most of which are corrosive. When a person smokes crystal, these substances are heated, vaporised and swirl throughout the user’s mouth. It is believed by some that chronic crystal smokers can have their teeth rotted to the gum line from the continuous affect of the vapours on tooth enamel.
The other way that crystal can affect dental hygiene is through dry mouth. Saliva acts as a buffer against acidic substances in the mouth, neutralising it and protecting teeth against acidic foods like lemons, acid from the gut or acidic plaque. If saliva production is reduced, oral bacteria levels can increase 10 times over normal levels. Crystal is believed to dry out the salivary glands. Without saliva, the acidic substances can eat away at the minerals in tooth enamel, causing holes or weak spots that turn into cavities.
Finally, there is the issue of gum disease. Teeth and gums need blood to stay healthy. Crystal causes the vessels that supply blood to oral tissues to shrink up. Reduced blood supply causes tissues to break down. With repeated shrinking, the blood vessels don’t recover and tissues die.
It is highly unlikely that occasional crystal smoking is going to cause significant dental problems. However, this is a drug that people can find themselves becoming dependent on quite quickly and daily use of the drug is not unusual. Looking after your dental hygiene is something that all crystal users should be conscious of.