In as little as a few months, a perfectly healthy set of teeth can turn a grayish-brown, twist and begin to fall out, and take on a texture that resembles ripened fruit instead of tough enamel. Dentists report seeing patients whose teeth have been transformed into "little black stubs" that are too painful to brush. In many cases, these patients lose many of their teeth and have to be fitted with dentures, at ages as young as 17!
What causes meth mouth?
Dental health experts can't say for certain why methamphetamine is so damaging, but they have some good ideas:
. Methamphetamine contains highly corrosive ingredients, including anhydrous ammonia, red phosphorous, lithium from car batteries, and muriatic acid.
. Methamphetamine causes dry mouth, which results from a reduced flow of saliva. Saliva is needed to wash away food and neutralize the acids produced by the bacteria in plaque. If you don't have enough saliva to do this, these acids can cause extensive decay.
. Methamphetamine makes users thirsty and craving sugary drinks. Mountain Dew has become the preferred drink of methamphetamine users, and a 12 ounce can contains about 12 teaspoons of sugar.
. The highly addictive nature of the drug causes users to stop caring for their personal hygiene, including brushing and flossing their teeth.
. Methamphetamine abuse can also lead to bruxism, or grinding of teeth. This occurs because addicts become nervous and paranoid and tend to hallucinate. Persistent bruxism may explain why teeth become twisted in a patient with meth mouth.
Effects of methamphetamine abuse
Using methamphetamines increases energy and makes the user feel more alert, while decreasing the appetite. Chronic use can result in a tolerance for the drug. This means that the user has to increase the amount of methamphetamine in order to feel the effects. The addict may also experience paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and rages that may result in violence. Meth users frequently develop sores on their bodies from scratching at bugs which they believe are crawling under their skin.
Impact on health
In addition to the possibility of losing all of their teeth, meth users face the following health risks:
. Inflammation of the heart lining
. Cardiovascular problems, including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain
. Acute lead poisoning (lead acetate is commonly used to make methamphetamine)
. For those who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels,skin abscesses, and an increased risk for transmittable diseases such as HIV
. If taken while pregnant, birth defects and premature delivery
. Hyperthermia and convulsions due to an overdose, resulting in death if not treated immediately
How to get help
If you think you may know someone who is using methamphetamine, help is available. Call the National Drug Abuse Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) or visit the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration website to locate a treatment facility.
The following warning signs may help you to determine if there is a problem:
. Badly decaying teeth
. Slurred, rapid speech
. Persistent cough
. Skin lesions on face, arms, or legs
. Unexplained weight loss
. Track marks or injection sites
. Inflamed or eroded nasal septum
. Frequent falls, unexplained bruises, or fractures
. Frequent hospitalizations
. Change in habits or friends
. Depression or talk of suicide
. High-strung, nervous, or paranoid behavior