A complete guide on Oral Health

A complete guide on Oral Health

According to statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 20 million Americans struggled with a substance use disorder in 2017.

Since then, the rate of addiction has only gone higher, having a detrimental effect on various aspects of people’s health. One area that fails to get as much attention is how addiction impacts oral health.

Dental care providers often find that people struggling with addiction have poor oral health. Let’s look at which drugs lead to dental issues, signs of potential drug abuse, and dental treatment of drug addicts.

Drugs That Cause Dental Problems

Wondering what factors affect oral health? Besides the obvious sugary treats and poor dental hygiene, drugs can also play a role.

Aside from the long-term damage they do to your organs, drugs can also have irreversible effects on your teeth.

While most substances can contribute to issues like dry mouth, they also have individual effects based on how they interact with your teeth and oral cavity.

For instance, using stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to grinding and clenching your teeth.

It can weaken the teeth and even cause them to break.

The most common substances affecting oral health include alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.

Also Read: How do Cavities Form?Should you whiten the Teeth When They Have Cavities?


Stimulant drugs include cocaine and methamphetamine, which can increase your cravings for sweet treats and sugary items.

Increased sugar intake is a major risk factor for cavities but is not the only reason for dental issues.

Drugs like methamphetamine can trigger acid reflux and vomiting, which increases acid levels in the mouth.

This, in turn, can weaken the enamel and contribute to a higher risk of tooth decay. Most people who use methamphetamine suffer from untreated tooth decay and various cavities.

Cocaine can have varying effects on oral health depending on how you consume it. Snorting powdered cocaine can damage the tissue between your nose and the roof of your mouth.

With increased use, it can become difficult to eat or even talk. And if you rub cocaine on your gums, it can lead to sores.

Both methamphetamine and cocaine are acidic, so they weaken the enamel and increase your risk of cavities. 


If you take opioids like heroin, long-term exposure can lead to gum disease, teeth discoloration, and tooth loss.

Furthermore, heroin numbs the pain you may experience due to dental issues. This can cause you to delay treatment or simply ignore the pain altogether.

How Does Alcoholism Affect the Oral Cavity?

Studies that look at the impact of alcoholism on oral health show that alcohol and oral health don’t go together. One study found that subjects with alcohol dependence had more dental cavities than nonalcoholic subjects.

The results also showed that more participants with alcoholism had mucosal lesions than the control subjects. Researchers found similar results for periodontitis as well.

Tooth Decay

Alcoholic beverages often have high sugar content, which weakens the tooth enamel over time. And when you have a habit of heavy drinking, you risk suffering from increased plaque build-up.

Also Read : Types of Gum Diseases: The Best Treatment from Dental Doctors

Dry Mouth

Saliva is important for maintaining oral hygiene because it neutralizes acids and washes away bacteria. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect that reduces saliva in the mouth.

Over time, excessive drinking can prevent salivary glands from functioning properly, resulting in xerostomia, also known as dry mouth.

Gum Disease

When you have dry mouth, the oral cavity is unable to flush out bacteria, which can lead to inflammation and infection. Moreover, increased alcohol consumption can cause periodontitis, also known as advanced gum disease. It can lead to recessed gums and eventual tooth loss.  

Also Read : 3 Tips for Healthy Teeth and Gums


Alcoholic beverages can lead to stained teeth, particularly if you drink darker-colored beverages like mixers or red wine.

How Does Tobacco Use Affect Oral Health?

Research reviews show that smoking cigarettes, i.e., the main cause of tobacco exposure, can lead to a variety of oral health issues. These include delayed healing after dental surgeries, mucosal lesions, and premature tooth loss.

These issues can have a lasting effect on your oral health, and it's one of the reasons addiction treatment centers will put you in touch with a dental specialist.

Mouth Cancer

One of the main risks of tobacco use is its link to mouth cancer. The carcinogenic chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products can lead to genetic changes in the oral cavity.

Consequently, exposure to tobacco can cause a higher risk of developing oral cancer.

Statistics by the Mouth Cancer Foundation show that almost 90 percent of mouth cancer patients use tobacco.

Tooth Loss

While tobacco doesn’t affect the teeth directly, it can cause bacterial infections and inflammation in the gums.

Increased exposure to tobacco can lead to bleeding gums and, eventually, gingivitis.

Without appropriate treatment at this stage, the gums start receding and lead to spaces that fill up with bacteria.

This can lead to consequential tooth loss as the bone and connective tissue holding the teeth grows weaker.  


As you grow older, the enamel covering your teeth can wear down, which increases the chances of staining from foods. Tobacco can enter through the cracks and permanently stain your teeth.

You can’t brush away tooth discoloration and will require whitening treatments to keep your teeth naturally white.

Slowed Healing

Tobacco products like cigarettes reduce the oxygen concentrations in your blood by impairing red blood cell function. And without adequate oxygen levels, your body can’t heal properly.

So when you do get dental treatments like root canals, tooth extractions, and periodontal treatment, your mouth will heal at a slower pace.  

What Are Dental Signs of Potential Drug Abuse?

Many drug abuse dental patients ask the question, ‘can a dentist tell if you do drugs?’ The answer is yes; dentists can identify signs of drug abuse in patients.

That’s because substances can lead to a number of oral health problems. And if a dentist can spot a number of these concerns, it’s a red flag.

Here are some of the oral manifestations of drug abuse:

●        Pinpricks in the gums as a sign of heroin addiction

●        Increased mucosal lesions due to alcohol or tobacco use

●        Low saliva production can indicate the use of drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamine, and others.

●        Tooth discoloration as a sign of tobacco or marijuana use

●        Recessed gums and plaque as a sign of excessive tobacco and alcohol use

●        Palatal perforations and damage to gum tissue as a sign of cocaine (or other stimulants) use

●        Missing teeth as a sign of late-stage gum disease (which can occur due to prolonged drug abuse)

Other things that your dentist may spot but aren’t necessarily linked to drug abuse include a history of grinding teeth, mouth ulcers, chipped teeth, white lesions, and mucosal dysplasia, which is a change in the mouth lining.

Dental Treatment Drug Addicts

Although drugs and dental health don’t mix, recovering addicts require urgent dental treatment to prevent oral health issues from worsening.

But to ensure that the treatment is effective, you must first address your drug use problem by seeing a professional. By cutting back on your use of a substance, you can allow treatment methods to work effectively.

Necessary Treatments for Drug Addicts

People with a history of drug abuse are most likely to suffer from cavities, bruxism, dry mouth, lesions, and damage to the gum tissue.

While cavities can be filled, patients must take strict measures to prevent drug use and avoid high-sugar items.

Moreover, your dental professional must manage and stabilize symptoms of gum disease before moving on to restorative treatment.

And if you suffer from mouth lesions, you’ll need to avoid drug use and foods that can exacerbate inflammation before your dentist can move forward with a dental restoration.

Pain Management

One of the main challenges dentists may face when treating recovering addicts is pain management.

There’s a risk that the patient may misuse pain relieving medicine, but if you fail to provide pain management measures, the risk of relapse increases. 

In this case, dentists should consult the patient’s physician about the best approach to reduce pain without increasing the risk of relapse.


Addiction can have detrimental effects on your oral health. Whether you take alcohol, tobacco, or stimulants, you have a higher risk of tooth decay, dry mouth, and gum damage.

For instance, alcohol can exacerbate gum disease, while tobacco can increase the risk of mouth cancer. Dentists can spot these signs to identify when a patient uses certain drugs.

Addicts may require a number of dental treatments like fillings and root canals, but for treatments to be effective, it’s imperative that they stop using the drug first.


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