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Can Drug Use Cause Tooth Loss?

By Bruce Wilderman on April 30, 2016

A man undergoing a dental examDrug abuse can be devastating to our health, including our oral health. The effects of drug use can be seen within a short amount of time, often with the teeth showing the first signs of damage. Restorative dentistry treatments can repair a variety of dental issues, restoring the health and appearance of even the most severely damaged smiles. Learn more about tooth loss and drug use in this overview from Philadelphia, PA dentist Bruce J. Wilderman.

Does Drug Use Cause Tooth Loss?

Yes. Drug use can lead to tooth loss in addition to many other oral health issues. Different drugs have different effects on dental health, however, most drugs will cause tooth loss and other damage, like oral ulcers, rotting teeth, stained teeth, and broken teeth.

How Does Drug Use Cause Tooth Loss?

In many cases, drug use leads to tooth loss as a result of tooth decay and gum disease. Drug use creates a “perfect storm,” so to speak, of factors that cause tooth decay and gum disease to rapidly progress, including:

  • Enamel erosion: Drugs, like methamphetamine, strip the teeth of their enamel, the outer layer of the teeth that prevents decay. As the enamel erodes, the inner structures of the teeth are exposed to bacteria and acids.
  • Loss of vitamins and minerals: In addition to stripping tooth enamel, some drugs leach the body of minerals and calcium, both of which are essential for healthy bones and teeth.
  • Dry mouth: Many drugs cause dry mouth, a condition in which insufficient saliva is produced. Saliva is essential for washing away food debris, restoring minerals to the teeth, and neutralizing acids within the mouth. Dry mouth allows more bacteria and acid to collect in the mouth, increasing the risk of gum disease and tooth decay. 
  • Appetite suppression: Drug use can also cause appetite suppression, which can contribute to dental damage. As previously indicated, drug use can rob the body of minerals and calcium. Eating helps restore minerals and vitamins to our teeth and bodies, but those who experience appetite suppression often don't eat enough to counteract the amount of minerals and calcium lost to drug use.

Which Drugs Are Most Damaging to Oral Health?

Different drugs affect general and oral health differently. While the use of illegal drugs, and misuse of prescription drugs, can all have damaging effects on oral health, some drugs are more harmful to dental health than others. These drugs include:

  • Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine, or “meth,” is one of the most dangerous drugs to oral health. The chemicals in methamphetamine strip dental enamel within weeks of use, causing tooth decay to occur rapidly and tooth loss to occur within a few months of use. The damage caused by methamphetamine use is so severe it has its own colloquial name: “meth mouth.”
  • Cocaine: Cocaine use is also severely damaging to oral health as it robs the body of vitamins and minerals, necessary for strong teeth. Some cocaine users rub the drug directly on their teeth, drastically speeding the rate of tooth erosion and damage to the gums. Like with methamphetamine use, tooth loss can occur within a few months of cocaine use. 
  • Club drugs: Abuse of club drugs, like speed and ecstasy, can lead to tooth loss as a result of severe tooth decay and dental damage caused by jaw-clenching and dry mouth.
  • Heroin: Heroin can lead to severe tooth decay, which can result in tooth loss, because it makes those who use it crave sugary foods and drinks.

Schedule a Consultation

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug abuse, we urge you to seek help. For more information about drug use and oral health, we welcome you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Wilderman.

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