Meth Mouth – Early Signs of Addiction & Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by:
Medically Reviewed by:

Methamphetamine use remains a major issue in the United States, especially in rural areas. In 2020, approximately 1.6 million people aged 12 and up admitted to using meth, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. While this number has gone down from the peak of 1.9 million in 2005, it’s still a major public health concern that we need to address.

Understanding the severity of meth mouth is crucial. If you or someone you know is struggling with meth addiction, it is important to be aware of the damaging effects it can have on your oral health. The following article will take a closer look at meth mouth, the symptoms, causes, and treatments as well as prevention tips for this painful and potentially life-threatening condition.

What Is Meth Mouth?

The term “meth mouth” is a dental condition characterized by severe tooth decay, gum disease, and oral health problems. It is a common and well-documented problem among individuals who use methamphetamine, a potent stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), methamphetamine use is a major public health concern in the United States, with a significant impact on dental health. The ADA also found during a study of 571 methamphetamine users, that 96% of participants had cavities, 588% had untreated tooth decay, and 31% had six or more teeth missing.

Effects of Meth Mouth

The effects of meth mouth can be severe and worsen rapidly if not addressed. The early stages of meth mouth may be difficult to identify because the symptoms can range from mild to not even noticeable at first. However, regular meth users should look for early signs such as: 

  • Tooth decay
  • Swelling, inflammation, and bleeding of the gums (Gum disease)
  • Bad breath
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Over time, individuals may develop cavities which can lead to serious dental issues such as:

  • Teeth that are loose or falling out
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bone deterioration
  • Difficulty chewing or speaking
  • Pain in the jaw muscles and/or joints
  • Infections and abscesses in the mouth

What Causes Meth Mouth?

The causes of meth mouth can be attributed to a combination of factors. Methamphetamine use leads to decreased saliva production, poor oral hygiene practices, increased cravings for sugary foods and drinks, bruxism (teeth grinding), and vasoconstriction, all of which contribute to the rapid deterioration of dental health and the characteristic oral manifestations known as meth mouth.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Methamphetamine use causes severe dry mouth or xerostomia, a condition that results from reduced salivary gland function. Salvia helps neutralize acid, wash away food particles, and provide minerals and other substances that help prevent tooth decay. The lack of saliva due to meth use can lead to severe tooth decay. 

Poor Oral Hygiene

Using meth can lead to poor oral hygiene practices, as individuals may neglect their teeth and gums due to the drug’s effects. Meth users may not brush or floss regularly and may skip their dental check-ups and annual cleanings. 

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

People who use meth are also more prone to teeth grinding or bruxism, which can further damage their teeth and oral health. Teeth grinding can cause tooth sensitivity, headaches, and jaw pain. 

Begin Recovery

Whether you’re seeking treatment for yourself, a loved one or as a referring physician, we are always available to answer your questions and help connect you with the resources you need.

Diet & Nutritional Deficiencies

People using meth often have poor diets and may neglect proper nutrition due to the drug’s effects (suppressed appetite). Additionally, people who consume meth often have a diet high in sugary foods and other carbohydrates, which can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease. 

Lifestyle Factors

Unfortunately, meth use is often associated with other lifestyle factors that can contribute to poor oral health, such as alcohol use and smoking tobacco. 

Toxic Chemicals

The chemical composition of meth is classified as an acidic substance. This can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel and cavities when smoked or ingested. Smoking meth can expose teeth to high temperatures and corrosive chemicals, similar to battery acid, antifreeze, and drain cleaners. 

Why Does Crystal Meth Rot Your Teeth?

As mentioned earlier, crystal meth can cause tooth decay and other oral health problems due to its harmful effects on the salivary glands. Saliva plays a vital role in maintaining oral health by washing away food particles, neutralizing acid, and providing minerals and other substances that help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Due to the lack of saliva in most meth users, they are more prone to experience a rapid decline in their dental health. 

How Meth Affects The Rest Of The Body

The use of methamphetamine has significant impacts on the body as a whole. Some of the most significant health effects include:

  • Brain damage
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Respiratory problems 
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Skin infections and sores
  • Mental health issues 
  • Gastrointestinal system (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)

Meth use can have extensive negative effects on multiple systems within the body. Addressing meth abuse and addiction is critical to prevent further damage and improve the overall well-being of those affected.

Treatment Options for Meth Addiction and Meth Mouth

An individual experiencing meth mouth will generally need to meet with a dental health professional. Treating meth mouth requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the dental issues and the underlying addiction to methamphetamine. A dentist can create a plan that may include:

  • A thorough dental exam to assess the extent of the damage
  • Root canals to treat tooth decay
  • Oral hygiene education
  • Tooth extraction
  • Dentures, bridges, or dental implants to replace missing teeth
  • Surgical intervention for advanced cases

Addressing Meth Addiction

Dealing with “meth mouth” is just one part of beating meth addiction. It’s important to address the underlying methamphetamine addiction to prevent future dental damage and improve overall health. If you or someone you know is struggling with meth addiction, it’s essential to get professional help to address the root cause of the problem. A substance abuse facility provides a variety of services such as medically monitored detoxification to help manage withdrawal symptoms, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and support groups to aid in the recovery of people struggling with meth addiction. 

At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, we offer a range of evidence-based therapies and comprehensive support services that can help you or your loved one overcome addiction and start living a healthier, happier life.

Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our continuum of care and how to overcome methamphetamine addiction. 

  1. American Dental Association–Methamphetamine Use and Oral Health
  2. NIDA. 2021, April 13. What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine?. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-people-who-misuse-methamphetamine 
  3. Curtis E. K. (2006). Meth mouth: a review of methamphetamine abuse and its oral manifestations. General dentistry54(2), 125–130.
  4. Pabst, A., Castillo-Duque, J. C., Mayer, A., Klinghuber, M., & Werkmeister, R. (2017). Meth Mouth—A Growing Epidemic in Dentistry? Dentistry Journal5(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/dj5040029