Pa. dental association outlines risks, signs of meth abuse

Because the effects of methamphetamine use are devastating, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is bringing the risks of this destructive drug to the attention of both the public and dental professionals. About 10 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, while more than 1.4 million are habitual users.

"The ill effects of methamphetamine use on the oral cavity [are] particularly profound," said Brian Schwab, D.D.S., a PDA member and general dentist from Reading. "As healthcare professionals, we need to think outside the box and treat not only the patient's dental needs but also address their social, psychological, and emotional needs, so that an individual with addiction can access treatment. Dentists need to be a member of the addiction-treating team, not just repairing the effects on the dentition."

Methamphetamine use can cause serious health problems, including permanent and irreversible brain damage, respiratory problems, hyperthermia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, strokes, high blood pressure, extensive tooth decay, and even death.

Methamphetamine use affects dental health in several ways, including:

  • The teeth become blackened, stained, and rotted and crumble and fall apart. Many users also experience sore and bleeding gums.
  • The acidic ingredients of methamphetamine can damage teeth. Ingredients can include battery acid, lantern fuel, antifreeze, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, and over-the-counter cold medications containing ephedrine.
  • Users of methamphetamine habitually grind and clench their teeth.
  • Users can experience dry mouth, as methamphetamine use dries up the protective saliva around the teeth.
  • While high, users often crave sugary beverages, bathing the teeth in sugary acids.
  • The high from methamphetamine typically lasts about 12 hours, during which time users are usually not brushing or flossing their teeth. This can lead to long periods of poor oral hygiene.

"Many people believe that methamphetamine use is isolated to the inner cities and suburbs, but the truth is that drug abuse reaches into every crevice of Pennsylvania," Dr. Schwab said. "A dentist anywhere can and will encounter a patient who abuses methamphetamine, and we all need to be well versed in its side effects and treatment protocols."

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