Substance abuse and addiction affect thousands of people in the United States every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, in 2014, 10.2 percent of Americans, ages 12 and older, reported some type of illicit substance abuse in the past month.
About 23.4 percent of American adults, ages 18 and older, engaged in at least one heavy drinking day in the past year. People who regularly consume intoxicating substances, from alcohol to opioids, put themselves at high risk of suffering physical harm.
While many people who think of drug abuse imagine damage to the lungs, stomach, heart, or brain, many types of drugs damage the teeth and gums. People who struggle with addiction spend a great deal of their time intoxicated on drugs or trying to acquire more drugs; this means that they often neglect oral hygiene because they cannot afford a dentist or they simply stop caring about brushing their teeth.
There are several ways that each drug can, individually, damage oral health. Here are the most common ways that addictive drugs can generally harm the mouth and teeth:
Most people know from public health advertisements that meth abuse damages teeth; however, they may not know how this occurs, how quickly it can happen, or that other drugs can damage oral health. Below are drugs that are most often associated with damage to the teeth, gums, jaw, and oral hygiene:
Cocaine may cause a movement disorder called transient chorea; this can manifest in jaw and mouth-related muscle spasms called buccolingual dyskinesia, which can look like grinding the teeth or a strange smile. Grinding the teeth can crack them and cause damage to the enamel, the surrounding gums, and the jaw.
Unfortunately, dental surgery may lead to opioid addiction, for some people. Oral surgery to correct dental problems is common, and dentists typically prescribe a course of opioid painkillers after surgery. While these are milder opioids like Percocet or Vicodin, the drugs may still trigger addiction for some individuals. The American Dental Association recently issued guidelines for opioid prescriptions to help dentists become more aware of their role in the opioid addiction epidemic.
Damage to oral health means that teeth may be lost, and gum disease could cause lasting harm to the mouth. This could make eating difficult even after drug use has stopped, and it can damage a person’s self-esteem, which can make emotional recovery from substance abuse harder. Getting help with detox, then entering a rehabilitation program, can help a person overcome addiction. Oftentimes, treatment centers can assist clients in finding dental specialists who can address their oral health problems.