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What is Meth Mouth?

Abusing meth inflicts numerous side effects on the user's body; meth mouth is perhaps the most recognizable of these side effects. Meth users are instantly recognized by their darkened decaying teeth and chronically parched mouths. The condition is more severe in meth users who snort the drug rather than smoking or injecting it. This article discusses various aspects of this condition and their treatment.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Meth stimulates the functioning of the brain, in the course redirecting blood supplied to other parts of body to the blood vessels in the brain. As the blood supply to other body parts is cut off, their tissues die and they lose their ability to recover from wounds and to function properly. This process occurs in the mouth too where the oral tissue dies. As a result, salivary glands stop producing saliva and meth users are left with a permanently dry mouth.

Tooth Decay (Dental Caries)

A decline in saliva production doesn't only make the mouth dry; it also makes teeth susceptible to corrosive attacks from chemicals in food materials. Saliva contains chemicals that can neutralize such corrosive chemicals, ensuring that teeth remain healthy. In absence of saliva, corrosive chemicals degrade the tooth enamel (outermost white-colored covering of the tooth), causing them to darken. Tooth caries (decay) appears at the base of the teeth, on the side facing the cheeks and in the areas around the incisors and canines. The affected tooth can fracture, causing severe pain. Gradually, the entire tooth is reduced to a blackened stub that is the most identifiable characterisitic of a meth mouth.

Meth- induced tooth decay can also cause a number of periodontal diseases. These are oral diseases that affect the periodontal tissue which surrounds and provides support to the teeth. In simple terms, these can be called gum-related diseases. Periodontal diseases fall into two categories: gingivitis and periodontitis . Both of these diseases are characterized by inflammation of the periodontal tissue.

Mouth Sores

Meth users often develop white sores on their tongue and inside their mouth after smoking meth heavily. This characteristic of meth mouth is usually caused by chemical burns caused by the caustic medicines that are used to manufacture meth. Mouth sores can be very painful and meth users must go off the drug while the sores are treated.

Compulsive Grinding of Teeth (Bruxism)

Most meth users are given to compulsive grinding of their teeth against each other. This aggravates the condition of already deteriorating teeth. Meth users who grind their teeth continuously can feel soreness in their jaw joint. Long-term bruxism can lead to a medical condition called trimus where the affected individual is unable to open his/her jaw at all. Meth users also tend to ignore general dental hygiene practices like brushing and flossing.

Treating Meth Mouth

Meth mouth treatments have three major objectives: to stop tooth decay, to increase saliva production and to encourage positive behavioral changes in the addicts. Dentists treat tooth decay by prescribing toothpastes and mouth rinses with fluoride content. Saliva production is stimulated by prescribing FDA approved drugs like like Silagogues, Pilocarpine and Cevimeline which are known to heal salivary glands. Patients under treatment are advised to drink water and avoid dehydrating drinks. Chewing sugar-free gum is known to reactivate periodontal ligament, thereby stimulating saliva production. Behavioral treatment includes reinforcing a general dental hygiene routine in the users.

Meth mouth treatment is limited by many factors. Dental procedures which require numbing of the oral cavity can't usually be performed because local anesthetic can combine with meth and cause dire cardiac problems. Also, opium-based medications cannot be used while treating a meth user.

Usually, meth users tend to avoid seeking dental help because the drug makes them believe that they are more attractive than before. If they do seek treatment, they are usually withdrawn and avoid discussing their drug use. As a result, meth mouth can be very hard to treat. In fact, abandoning the drug is the only definitive solution to avoiding future dental damage.

Meth can wipe off a user's whole set of teeth in as little as 4 months and meth mouth is an ugly indicator of an addiction that can slowly destroy the whole body. While preventive measures and treatment drugs can help slow down the deterioration, it can be stopped only when the user stops abusing the drug.

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