I’ve seen it too many times: a healthy, young adult with ten to twelve blackened teeth, crumbled and decayed down to the gumline. It is a horrific, tragic sight. The cause? Too often it is Methamphetamine use. The first anecdotal accounts of “methmouth,” as it has come to be called, started to appear in the dental literature several years ago. It struck a cord of recognition – yes, I had also seen this debilitating decay in several patients at my East Setauket dental office.
Methamphetamine is a powerful psychostimulant that has become prevalent because it is easy to manufacture and relatively less expensive than other illicit substances. Over 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine at least once and most users are between 18 and 34 years.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Dental Association examined the relationship between meth use and dental decay (http://jada.ada.org/cgi/content/full/141/3/307). The study confirmed what dentists have seen anecdotally, and the authors conclude that “overt dental disease is one of the key distinguishing comorbidities in meth users who otherwise generally are healthy. ”They also found that, contrary to common belief, people who smoke or inhale meth have less dental disease than those who inject meth. More research needs to be done to determine the scientific basis for the connection of meth and dental disease.
The meth users that I have seen in my dental office were concerned about their dental appearance, a fact also borne out by the JADA study. Dentists can thus play an important role in the early detection of meth use. Dentists can also play a role in the recovery process by restoring patients’ dentition and helping them regain a positive self-image.