Heroin has a damaging effect on the user's body - and the teeth do not escape unscathed. In fact, one of the telltale signs of a person with a heroin addiction is the rampant tooth decay otherwise generally associated with methamphetamine users, often referred to as "meth mouth."
"Meth Mouth" Among Heroin Users
Although dramatically decayed teeth is most often associated with users of meth, a study by the American Dental Association found that there was no significant difference in the dental disease prevalence among study participants, all of whom were either heroin or meth users.
The teeth of heroin and meth users are characterized by dramatically decayed teeth, diseased gums and a discolored tongue. Heroin users may ignore the pain associated with the tooth problems since heroin is a pain-killing drug. This can result in tooth decay advancing unchecked.
Heroin Effects on the Mouth
It's not merely the addiction making users not care about their oral health that causes the tooth problems. Heroin has distinct effects that prompt dental disease, including:
- Increased cravings for sweet, sugary foods; these sugary foods can wreak havoc on teeth.
- Teeth grinding, particularly during withdrawal periods; this wears away at enamel and makes the teeth more susceptible to cracks or crumbling.
- Dry mouth, which promotes tooth decay by depriving the teeth of protective saliva; when combined with an intake of sugary foods, this can set the stage for rapid tooth decay.
- Nausea; this can damage the enamel of teeth when frequent vomiting occurs as a result.
Add to these a heroin user's propensity to disregard self-care, and it is no wonder an addict's oral health rapidly declines. Drug users may avoid visiting the doctor or dentist for fear of getting cornered about their drug use, so hopes of getting the tooth problems treated early before they advance to beyond care are small. The fear of police and being charged, as well as the high cost of dental care can also act as deterrents for seeking help.
Extensive Use Promotes Problems
It is with extensive, prolonged heroin use that the above symptoms arise, although dry mouth and nausea can occur with the very first use. Users with existing dental problems will experience more rapid decay. The longer left unchecked, the more irreversible the damage.
Overall drug use can create nutritional deficiencies from lost appetite, depriving the teeth of the nutrients and minerals they need to stay healthy. Specifically, calcium-rich foods and foods containing phosphorus are needed in order to keep protective enamel healthy on teeth. Vitamin D and vitamin C are also important for tooth health. Depriving the body of these nutrients and minerals creates an environment conducive to a rapid decline in dental health.
Preventing Heroin Mouth
Heroin users who can manage to maintain their oral health and visit dentists as recommended may be able to avoid permanent damage, particularly if they continue to maintain nutrient-rich foods in their diet. The problem, of course, is that heroin usage is not necessarily conducive to diligent self-care.
Treating Dental Problems
Stopping heroin use is the obvious solution to getting back on track with oral health. A dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat any infections present. The patient will also be urged to return to proper dietary and oral health practices, and any teeth beyond repair will probably be removed. Those with prolonged addiction and highly damaged teeth may wind up with dentures or other similar solutions.
An Obvious Sign
Heroin addicts can hide their drug usage, but not when their teeth start to react to the impact the drug has upon their bodies. It's a tangible demonstration of the addict's disregard for their own well-being. Heroin is not kind to the human body and can do significant damage - if the user lives long enough to experience it.