You've probably heard the term "meth mouth." You've probably also seen depictions of the teeth of meth users on shows like Breaking Bad. If someone in your life is a meth user, you may even have had the misfortune of observing this drug's dental destruction in real life. It's no secret that meth use leads to deteriorated, blackened teeth — but do you know why? Here's a closer look at the mechanisms behind meth mouth and the solutions a dentist may recommend.
What Causes Meth Mouth?
There are actually three different ways in which meth can lead to tooth deterioration.
1. Meth is very acidic. Anything acidic is terrible for the teeth as it breaks down tooth enamel, increasing your risk of cavities and decay. Even tomatoes and lemon juice are acidic enough to cause enamel damage if you consume them too often. Meth is even more acidic, so smoking it daily over a period of months or years can have disastrous consequences.
2. Meth makes you grind your teeth. Tooth grinders are notorious for suffering enamel damage. Most people who grind their teeth just do it when they are really stressed out, so the damage progresses slowly. But meth can cause you to aggressively grind your teeth almost constantly throughout the day and night. Combined with the drug's acidity, this continued pressure and grinding can cause the teeth to crack and crumble.
3. Meth causes you to neglect your dental care. When your number-one goal is to get high, chances are you are not going to take the time out to brush your teeth two or three times per day. You're probably not eating the healthiest, most tooth-friendly diet, either.
What Can a Dentist Do About Meth Mouth?
Few people actually visit the dentist when they are using meth. They may be embarrassed or scared that their dentist will find out about their drug habit due to the nature of their teeth. Once they recover, however, they often want to repair their teeth. Depending on the extent of the damage, a dentist may recommend one or more of the following.
If the tooth roots are still in decent shape and the tooth is not too badly deteriorated, your dentist may cover the tooth with a crown. Made from porcelain or metal, a crown gives the tooth stability while also hiding its discolored appearance. For teeth in the front, a dentist will almost always recommend a tooth-colored porcelain crown. Back teeth can be crowned with metal, if desired, since it is cheaper and not easily seen in the back.
Another option may be to fill the cavities and then place veneers over the front teeth. Made from porcelain, veneers are like little shields for your teeth. They keep anyone who looks at you from seeing the real tooth. Instead, they just see the shiny white veneer. Veneers do not make the teeth any stronger or prevent additional decay, so they are only an option if meth mouth is in its early stages.
Most meth users do end up needing a few teeth removed and replaced with dental implants. This can be a long and arduous process. First, the teeth are extracted. Then, the implant is put into the jawbone and given a few months to heal. Then, a crown is attached to the implant. Implants are, however, the best solution for badly deteriorated teeth, and they look just like real teeth once you are healed.
If you or someone you know has used meth, you can expect that dental damage is in your future. Talk to your dentist to learn more; as professionals, their goal is to help you — not to judge.