Meth Mouth

The dangers of meth mouth for young Australians

There is no specific profile for your average meth user—it’s fair to say that all sorts of people across the community may take it for recreational purposes. They may not do it all the time.

But unfortunately some people become addicted to it, and there is one thing all people addicted to meth have in common: meth mouth. These people, many of them relatively young, end up with teeth that are no more than stumps.

What are the signs of meth mouth?

Patients aren’t going to come in and admit to being a user—but their mouths often tell the tale. The first sign of meth mouth is an extremely dry mouth.

Patients present with teeth that are ring-barked with decay—they usually have very high acidity levels in their mouths, and this isn’t helped by what they’re eating and drinking. There are a whole lot of contributing factors. Methamphetamines are particularly bad when it comes to exacerbating these conditions.

How is meth mouth treated?

Obviously part of the rehabilitation process is to get them off the meth, because there’s absolutely no point in treating a drug addict who isn’t undergoing rehabilitation—as their dentist, you’re basically just chasing your tail.

I do see the odd person who is obviously in a lot of pain and needs immediate treatment. The sad thing is that a lot of them are so young, but their teeth are already just crumbling. I try to do my best, but I know that they’ll come back in six or twelve months and the problem will have resurfaced. This is all just part of the rehabilitation process.

The rewards of fighting meth mouth

I find it very rewarding to help people who are serious about getting back on track. Good dental work can be something that makes them feel confident about themselves. Patients can start smiling again—and having a decent smile—and not be constantly reminded about what they’ve done to their bodies even just by smiling and showing the black stumps that they’ve got.

Obviously the consequences of meth mouth are pretty horrific.  It’s a long and often difficult process to get patients back to a point where they do have teeth that they can feel confident about opening their mouths and showing.

I find it helpful to conduct this process in stages—you can get someone’s smile looking fantastic within a week with temporary or semi-permanent measures. No one likes sitting in the chair for hours. It’s sometimes necessary to conduct treatment over several visits.

What we can do

I use relatively strong materials that can be put in fairly quickly to get the patient’s bite to the point where it is comfortable. I can make their teeth look white at first glance, though this quick procedure doesn’t bear close examination because it doesn’t have the beautiful shiny enamel appearance of properly placed porcelain or some painstaking dental work.

But within a week I am able to at least get them from a stumpy appearance to restoring their vertical dimension. A patient with meth mouth can be given a smile that, from conversation distance, looks normal and they can feel good about going out and, perhaps, applying for a job or doing something in the community.

Then, as they build up the time and money, they can come in and get their mouths restored bit by bit, as the work needs to be done.