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Substance abuse effects on teeth

Health Tips

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Quick Read

  • Drugs not only have negative effects on your health, they can also cause tooth damage.
  • It is important to disclose the drugs you are taking to your dentist.
  • Some drugs, including prescription medication can offset a condition called ‘dry mouth’, which significantly increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Smoking increases your risks significantly of gums issues, tooth decay and cancers including oral cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol regularly can cause tooth erosion and dry mouth that can lead to tooth decay and other gum problems.

Healthy gums and teeth are heavily dependent on good oral hygiene routines, a healthy low-sugar diet, and regular visits to the dentist.

Some drugs can have very negative effects on your oral health. The damages these drugs can do to your mouth can mean that you may need a dental restoration at some point, this will mean it will be quite expensive and is likely to be quite painful for you. This is why it is important for you to attend your routine visits to the dentist so they can highlight any issues before they are able to worsen beyond the ability to be reversed. 

There are many ways in which each drug can individually damage your oral health. These are some of the most common ways that addictive drugs can harm both your mouth and teeth:

  • Grinding teeth
  • Loss of blood flow to roots and gums
  • Dry mouth
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth that often lead to further infection
  • Nutritional deficiencies that damage teeth and gums
  • Loss of blood flow to roots and gums
  • Greater intake of less nutritional food often foods and drinks that contain high sugar content which will create cavities and erode the teeth
  • A big focus on attaining more drugs rather than caring for oral hygiene  

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can be a result of many things. Most drugs reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth which leads to the condition called ‘dry mouth’. Chronic dry mouth is a serious condition that increases the risk of tooth decay and gum disease because the job of saliva is to:

  • Reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.
  • It has a washing effect that prevents food particles from sitting on/sticking on teeth effectively washing them away.
  • It contains substances that are crucial in the process of repairing the tooth enamel (re-mineralisation) that has been damaged by acids.

Drugs That Can Affect Your Oral Health

Everyone is somewhat aware that drug abuse has terrible effects on both your teeth and your teeth. What most people don’t realise is how quickly these damages can occur. Below are a few drugs that are most often associated with damage to oral health and hygiene:

Methamphetamine / Meth:

A condition associated with those abusing meth is often colloquially referred to as meth mouth as this drug is infamous for rotting the teeth quite quickly.

Continuous use of meth causes blood vessels to shrivel and die which causes terrible problems in the gums. Meth also makes the mouth dry out causing dry mouth.  Without any saliva or any necessary acids present in the mouth the enamel of the teeth are prone to wear away.

Meth is also a stimulant which can cause people to grind their teeth due to stress. People who struggle with meth addiction usually crave sugary foods and drinks which creates even more issues for your oral hygiene and health.

Cannabis/ Marijuana:

Smoking anything, including marijuana (weed), can lead to mouth cancer. Marijuana specifically is known to cause dry mouth which, similar to meth, can wear away at the enamel of the tooth due to the lack of an imbalance of the necessary acids in the mouth.

As if cancer and dry mouth weren’t bad enough consequences of smoking marijuana, smoking this can often cause a syndrome called cannabinoid hyperemesis. This condition causes frequent vomiting. The problem with vomiting a lot is the stomach acid that is produced when you vomit can wear away the enamel of the teeth causing further decay as well as cavities.

Amphetamines (Ecstasy, Molly, MDMA etc):

These drugs are often referred to as ‘club drugs’. These are stimulus drugs that cause the people who take them to grind their teeth, causing damage to the teeth eventually leading the teeth to crack. The grinding action can also cause a lot of damage to the jaw itself. These stimulant drugs also cause dry mouth and also lead to severe dehydration which further damages the teeth, the enamel as well as other structures in the mouth.


Cocaine is a very potent stimulant that affects many parts of the body, the damage it causes varies depending on how the drug is taken. The drug itself is very acidic so when / if it comes in contact with the teeth, it quite quickly breaks down the enamel of the tooth.

Some users of cocaine put a powdered version into the gums. Doing so leads to sores in the mouth that are very likely to get infected. Snorting cocaine creates a lot of health issues for the user however, in regard to their oral health, snorting this drug can lead to a hole to form between the nose and the mouth. It can also onset mouth-related muscle spasms and teeth grinding.

Opioids and opiates:


Heroin tends to make people crave sweet foods which can increase the risk of tooth decay if good oral hygiene is neglected. Opiates and opioids are not stimulants, however they can cause users to grind their teeth and have dry mouth.

Those users who inject these drugs into their system put themselves at higher risk for many infections that can trigger oral fungus or viral infections that directly affect the mouth.

As previously mentioned, these drugs can cause a lot of pain in your mouth specifically, however, opioids reduce this pain as well as reduce the sensitivity in your mouth which can mean that the user may be unaware that the problem even exists while it continues to worsen.


Although legal, this addictive and intoxicating substance usually contains a lot more sugars than people are aware of. Alcohol is also acidic so with the added sugars can lead to a faster build-up of plaque and lead to tooth decay.

Acid reflux is very common when drinking alcohol. The reflux can bring up stomach acids that have the ability to wear away your enamel.

Red wine, brown liquors and alcohol with other colourants have a very strong ability to stain teeth.


This is another legal substance that can have some devastating effects on your mouth. Like smoking cannabis, smoking tobacco can cause oral or throat cancer. Whether it is smoking tobacco or chewing tobacco, most forms of tobacco can lead to dry mouth which can lead to a lot of tooth decay, tooth damage and gum disease.

Prescription medication and OTC drugs:

Over the counter medications as well as prescription medications have the ability to cause damage to structures in the mouth. When taken too much or too often, aspirin causes tooth damage or tooth decay. The damage is increased significantly when a person chews the pills instead of swallowing them whole. Antihistamines also have the same effect; they can lead to dry mouth and gum problems from the dry mouth.

Some prescription medications (such as asthma medications) can be quite acidic. Other medications such as oral contraceptives and medicated cough syrups can cause gum problems due to the dry mouth they also cause. Medicated syrups (e.g., cough syrups) contain sugar which has the ability to damage the enamel of your teeth.

Dental treatments for drug-related tooth and gum issues

The type of treatments that are available to your individual circumstance and what particular drug you have had some issues with and what issues it has caused your teeth and gums.  Popular treatments for drug related dental problems are:

  • Dental fillings for decayed teeth that are able to be saved
  • Restorative work such as crowns to restore the tooth
  • Teeth that are very badly decayed beyond repair may need to be removed. This can be then reconstructed with bridges, dental implants, or dentures (partial or full)
  • If your teeth aren’t that bad, the dentist might use topical fluoride on the surface of your teeth that reduces the risk of decay.

Drug use and dental treatment 

If you are scheduled for a dental check-up or dental treatment, it is important to tell your dentist about any substance abuse issues you have been having or any alcohol or smoking intake or any recreational drugs.

It is also important to disclose any medications you have been taking recently including herbal medications, over-the-counter medications, and prescription medication.

For more help with drug abuse, contact the NHS here.

Book an appointment with our dentists now to find out more about how to restore damaged teeth and gums. Find out more about our dental hygiene services.

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Contact us today to find out more about restorative dentistry by contacting one of our practices in Esher, Surrey or Wandsworth, South West London.