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"Meth Mouth" on the Rise

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"Meth Mouth" on the Rise

October 05, 2005
By Shelagh McNally for Dental1

It’s being called the oral plague. Teeth turn an ugly brown, go soft, flake, crack, crumble and fall out. The rapid tooth loss is also driving demand for dental implants. But it’s not something that is easily caught. You have to be a “tweaker” – someone addicted to crystal methamphetamine in order to develop “Meth Mouth.”
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Recognize the symptoms of the Meth mouth:

Dry Mouth: Meth dries out the salivary glands. Saliva acts as a buffer against acidic substances protecting teeth against acidic foods.

Tooth Decay: Meth users often drink sugary soda to relieve their dry mouth, which leads to more tooth decay.

Poor hygiene: When you’re high on Meth, flossing, brushing and rinsing aren’t important.

Cracked teeth: During withdrawal Meth users are anxious and clench or grind their teeth.

Gum disease: Meth causes blood vessels in the mouth to shrink and cut off the blood supply to teeth and gums. Without a healthy blood supply tissues break down and teeth fall out.

The use of crystal methamphetamine is reaching epidemic proportions in the States. Today’s core group is between to 18 and 34 years old, and includes college students and professionals. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration more than 12.3 million American age 12 and older have tried this highly addictive and extremely toxic street drug and many have become addicted.

Meth has become popular because it’s cheap and easily manufactured from over-the-counter ingredients like cold and asthma medications. Traffickers have targeted the rural West, Southwest and Midwest where it’s easier to avoid the law and set-up underground networks to sell Meth in high schools, colleges and at rave parties. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2002, (the most recent year for available statistics) admissions to drug treatment centers for methamphetamine abuse rose to 52 for every 100,000 patients. In 1992 it was 10 admissions per 100,000. In 2004 the DEA shut down 9,655 Meth labs and those were only the ones they knew about.
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Quick facts about Methamphetamine:

One of the most addictive drugs

Made from over-the-counter (OTC) ingredients making it a low-cost drug

Comes in many forms and can be snorted, injected, eaten or smoked

Often referred to as “speed”, “meth” or “chalk”. When smoked it’s called as "ice", "crystal", "crank" and "glass."

High lasts more than 12 hours

No current medications to treat addiction or overdose. Cold turkey is the only method of treatment.

The high described as “10-orgasms rolled into one” lasts an average of 12 hours, much longer than crack cocaine. But the price for that high is proving to be very high with Meth Mouth joining the long list of damages linked to this illegal street drug. The damage is quite distinctive and much faster than other oral problems. Usually within a few months of use a healthy set of teeth can turn grayish-brown and hard enamel becomes soft. Although more and more dentists, particularly those serving rural areas overrun with the labs, are seeing Meth mouth, little is know about the condition and almost no research has been done for the condition.

"This is the worst thing to come along in a long time," said Dr. Daniel D. Roberts, a Tennessee dentist. "At this point, I'm digging for roots. That's how I make my living."

Dr. John W. Shaner, an associate professor at Omaha’s Creighton University Medical Center School of Dentistry, in Omaha, believes it’s a combination of factors that lead to such enormous damage. “Meth causes dry moth” said Dr. Shaner, “and that in turn allows decay to start, since saliva is unavailable to help control bacteria in the mouth. The drug also tends to leave users thirsty and craving a constant supply of soda pop and other sugary drinks, which spur the decay.” The ultra-sweet Mountain Dew is the preferred drink of most methamphetamine users. Since the drug is highly addictive, users become fixated on their next fix and stop taking care of themselves. Flossing, brushing and rinsing are the first to go.

Meth also causes blood vessels in the mouth to shrink and cut off the blood supply to teeth and gums. Without a healthy blood supply tissues break down and teeth fall out. Other dentists point out that addicts have a tendency to grind and clench their teeth nervously, adding to the cracked and tangled look of Meth mouth. Treatment often means pulling out the teeth completely. As a result the demand for dental implants is becoming high among those seeking treatment. However, since more than half of the addicts are in prison, the epidemic of Meth mouth is putting a burden on an otherwise overloaded system. Many young addicts are having to settle for a lifetime of wearing dentures.

For many Meth addicts, the first hurdle is kicking the drug habit. The second one is dealing with the loss of their teeth.

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