The Effects of Substance Abuse
on Oral Health

Overlooking oral health has severe repercussions for the rest of the body, which many individuals are unaware of until it is too late. Substance use, alcoholism, and addiction lead to significant oral health problems. It is a common issue among addicts or anyone abusing drugs or alcohol. Individuals with substance use disorders often suffer from gum disease, cavities, and bad breath, which leads to further issues with the mouth and teeth. The mouth is a pathway for bacteria to enter the body. The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream leading to infections. Proper oral hygiene should be addressed during the rehabilitation process.

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The Neglect of Personal Health

People with a substance use disorder spend much of their time intoxicated, looking for drugs, or doing drugs, and neglect all aspects of personal hygiene, especially oral hygiene.

Oral health is overlooked, whether it is outright neglect or inability to afford the dentist.

When Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol damage oral health in different ways and the neglect of dental health leads to some of the following problems:

  • Grinding teeth
  • Loss of blood flow to roots and gums
  • Dry mouth, which increases acid in the mouth
  • Acid reflux, which can rot enamel
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • A higher intake of high-sugar foods rots teeth

Unfortunately, dental neglect creates numerous health problems.

Oral health and addiction

Numerous Health Problems Because of Poor Oral Hygiene

Bacteria from the gums travel throughout the body, creating other health issues.

Studies have shown that periodontal diseases are more prevalent in addicts than in the general population.

In addition, approximately 36% of addicts visit a dentist once a year. And 18% brush their teeth once a day.

The neglect of oral health can lead to some of the following health problems:

  • Dementia—Inflamed gums create bacteria that can lead to memory loss.
  • Respiratory Infections—Bacteria can travel into the lungs leading to respiratory infections.
  • Prostate Problems—Men with periodontal disease may suffer from prostate problems.
  • Cardiovascular Disease—Bacteria enter the bloodstream causing plaque build-up in the arteries.
  • Infertility—Women can experience infertility from gum disease.
  • Cancer—There is an increased risk of various cancers.
  • Diabetes—Diabetics are more likely to have infected gums.

The Types of Drugs that Affect Oral Health

Drugs and alcohol affect the teeth and gums in different ways. The regular use of these substances causes significant tooth damage.

It is also known that the damage done by illicit substances leads to other health problems.

Some of the following drugs create significant oral health issues:

Tobacco—Smoking tobacco is associated with mouth cancer, gum disease, and poor gum healing.

Alcohol—Most alcohols are acids, and regular use leads to tooth erosion, dry mouth, and an increased risk of mouth cancer.

Cannabis—Smoking marijuana creates dry mouth, leading to gum problems.

Methamphetamine—Because of the number of chemicals and high acidity in the drug, it causes severe tooth decay destroying tooth enamel.

Cocaine—Rubbing cocaine on the gums causes ulcerations, and smoking crack cocaine causes tooth decay.

Heroin—Smoking heroin causes tooth decay.

The consistent use of any of these substances combined with poor oral hygiene speeds up the process of tooth decay, gum disease, and countless other health problems.

Tips for Preventing Poor Oral Hygiene

For anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol, the first line of prevention is a drug rehabilitation center to stop using these substances. The benefit of substance use treatment centers is a person putting back together the different aspects of their life and focus on personal hygiene, such as brushing and flossing daily.

Preventing Further Tooth and Gum Issues

Consider the following suggestions:

  • Avoid soft drinks or sodas, which are acidic and erode tooth enamel, including alcohol.
  • Avoid sweet and sugary food and chew sugar-free gum to encourage a steady saliva flow.
  • Brush your teen twice a day, floss once a day, and visit a dentist at least once or twice yearly.
  • Stop smoking cigarettes.

Professional dental treatment may be needed depending on the severity of the problem. Fluoride, for example, strengthens teeth and reduces the risk of decay. Restorative work will be required if you have decayed teeth because of drug use.

It is not uncommon for highly decayed teeth to be removed entirely—this may lead to dental implants, bridges, or dentures. Dentists can also recommend cosmetic treatments, such as veneers.

Dr. Vineet Sidhu, Author

Dr. Vineet Sidhu has over 28 years of experience in dentistry. She enjoys dentistry and is always willing to go that extra length and be proud of a job well done.

She has a strong interest in preventive dentistry and strives to help her patients maintain a healthy smile for a lifetime. She strongly believes dental prevention is better than dental correction.

Dr Vineet Sidhu

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