Substance Abuse and Oral Health Issues

HHRC-epressed drug addict looking at a syringe

Drugs and alcohol are addictive and harmful to your health in more ways than one.

Oral health problems are the most common health issues associated with drug addiction. Many people think drug abuse only affects the brain, stomach, and lungs. Unfortunately, it also severely damages teeth and overall oral health. Addicts are either too intoxicated or too focused on looking for more drugs to care for their oral health.

In a study published in 2021, researchers found that the risk of periodontal disease, tooth decay, and missing teeth was higher with drug use. They associate the results with a long history of prolonged substance abuse and oral health practices that are irregular.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Oral Health

Can a dentist tell if you do drugs? Yes, they can. People who struggle with substance abuse and oral health problems have very telling signs and symptoms that dentists can immediately recognize.

Some of the most common ways they affect oral health include:

Dry Mouth

Addicts get tooth decay from drugs because of dry mouth. Their mouths don’t have enough saliva that helps protect your teeth from acids, cleans teeth, and flushes out harmful bacteria. A dry mouth also makes it difficult to eat, swallow, and even talk. Sometimes, it also leads to mouth sores.

Tooth Decay

A person struggling with substance abuse and oral health issues desires a lot of sweet snacks and drinks. Most addicts have dry mouths, weak tooth enamel, and neglected oral health; adding more sugar into the mix will result in damaged teeth, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Teeth Grinding

Stimulants like meth or cocaine can cause teeth clenching or grinding. They weaken teeth and may even break them. It also causes severe jaw pain.

Tooth Enamel Erosion

Most of these substances are acidic, which can wear down enamel. Some of them also cause users to vomit, which adds more acid to the mouth. Since addicts also have dry mouths, there’s not enough saliva to balance out the acidity caused by the drugs, exposing enamel to acid for a long time.

Neglect of Self-Care

A person struggling with substance abuse and oral health may be too high or too out of it to brush their teeth, resulting in tooth decay, gum disease, and even tooth loss. Addicts may find it harder to take care of their oral health. They tend to ignore their health issues, only seeking treatment when they are in advanced disease stages.

Effect of Different Substances


Wine, beer, and cider are acidic and can cause enamel erosion, leading to tooth pain and sensitivity. Spirits like vodka and whiskey have high alcohol contents and can dry out your mouth.


Even though heroin is injected, it’s one of many drugs that cause dental problems. Heroin users suffer the same fate as meth users—gum disease with missing, decaying, and discolored teeth. It’s also a painkiller; users might not even feel the pain from their teeth and gums.


Cocaine is the second most trafficked illegal substance in the world. It’s very addictive, and it takes only one to three doses for someone to become dependent on it.

Cocaine has different effects based on how users take it. They can put cocaine on gums, snort it, or ingest it.

Snorting it will cause tissue damage between the roof of the mouth and your nose, eventually forming a hole that makes it difficult to talk and eat.

Users can also ingest cocaine. It is highly acidic and can wear down teeth’s enamel. Crack or powdered cocaine can coat your teeth, leading to tooth decay and gum disease. Others rub cocaine on gums, which results in mouth sores.

Coke is a powerful stimulant that speeds up your body, resulting in coke jaw. Cocaine addicts with coke jaw grind their teeth and irregularly move their mouth, a side effect that can lead to other oral health problems.


One study found that 96% of meth users had tooth decay, and 58% had untreated cavities. Aside from heavy damage, their teeth are also heavily stained, earning the moniker “meth mouth.”

Meth’s acidity is one of the main reasons for meth mouth. It causes acid reflux and vomiting, making users crave a lot of sweets and soda, even though it reduces appetite.


Marijuana is also one of many drugs that cause dental problems. Pot smoke contains carcinogens that can lead to oral cancer. Users who smoke pot a lot may also develop cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which causes nausea and vomiting. Vomiting brings acids from your stomach to your mouth and can wear down teeth enamel, eventually leading to tooth decay.

Ecstasy and LSD

Addicts also get tooth decay from drugs like ecstasy and LSD. They are classified as hallucinogens, drugs that alter how a person perceives reality. Users experience dry mouth, teeth grinding and clenching, and oral problems associated with malnutrition. Users also have a high intake of carbonated drinks that contribute to a higher risk of dental caries and enamel erosion.

Club Drugs

Young people in recreational settings like dance clubs and rave parties primarily use club drugs like ketamine and GHB. They increase sensory perception and reduce inhibition. Like other drugs, they also cause dry mouth and teeth grinding, which may lead to tooth wear and dental caries.

How To Take Care of Oral Health

Good oral hygiene is the best way to combat the harmful effects of substance abuse. Still, the best long-term solution to healthy teeth is to stop bad habits and substance abuse.

Maintain oral health by:

  • Brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste
  • Reducing sugary food and drink
  • Waiting an hour before brushing your teeth after a meal
  • Use interdental brushes, floss, or tape to clean between your teeth
  • Using mouthwash one hour after brushing your teeth

Haven House Is Here to Help

Starting rehab is one of the best ways to help keep your teeth healthy.

Our centers for drug rehab in Nashville, TN, welcome all men struggling with substance abuse and addiction. We use the 12-step program and other techniques to provide them with all the help they will need to overcome addiction, stay sober, and reintegrate into society. Reach out to us today.