SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Some drugs can cause tooth damage.
- Some drugs cause a condition called dry mouth, which significantly increases the risk of tooth decay.
- Tell your dentist about any prescription, non-prescription and recreational drugs you are taking.
- Smoking increases your risk of gum problems and cancers, including oral cancer.
- Drinking alcohol regularly can cause a dry mouth and tooth erosion.
On this page
Healthy teeth and gums
Healthy teeth and gums depend on good oral hygiene, a diet low in added sugar, healthy saliva and regular visits to the dentist.
Some drugs can cause tooth damage, so it is important that you tell your dentist about any drugs you are taking. They can tell you if the drug is likely to affect your teeth and what you can do to help prevent dental issues.
Drug use and dry mouth
Some drugs reduce the flow of saliva and cause a condition called dry mouth. Dry mouth significantly increases the risk of tooth decay. This is because saliva:
- reduces the population of bacteria in the mouth
- neutralises mouth acids that cause tooth decay
- consistently repairs tooth enamel (the hard surface layer that protects the tooth) that has been damaged by acids in a process known as remineralisation
- has a washing effect that clears food particles away from tooth surfaces.
Talk to your dentist about whether any drugs you are taking could be causing dry mouth.
Drugs can affect teeth and gums
The regular use of drugs can cause significant tooth damage. Some substances may also carry high risk to our oral health, even if we may not consider them drugs:
- Alcohol - regular intake of alcohol can cause a dry mouth and tooth erosion, as most alcohols are acidic. It can also increase your risk of mouth cancer, especially when consumed in combination with smoking.
- Tobacco – smoking is associated with an increased incidence of cancer, gum disease and poor gum healing, including mouth cancer (especially when done in combination with regularly drinking alcohol).
- Cannabis – also called marijuana, pot and weed. It can cause dry mouth and can lead to an increased risk of gum problems. Cannabis smoke can increase the risk of mouth cancer.
- Cocaine – also called coke or blow. Users sometimes rub cocaine over their gums, causing ulceration of gums and the underlying bone. When mixed with saliva, cocaine becomes extremely acidic and this erodes tooth enamel and exposes the underlying dentine to decay-causing bacteria. Cocaine and crack cocaine cause dry mouth, which further increases the risk of tooth decay. Cocaine also increases tooth grinding (bruxism) which further wears the teeth.
- Ecstasy (MDMA) – also called the love drug, E, eckies, pingers or caps. Side effects of ecstasy include tooth grinding, jaw clenching and dry mouth.
- Heroin – also called smack, horse or hammer. People who use heroin tend to crave sweet foods, which can increase the risk of tooth decay if dental hygiene is neglected. Heroin can also cause dry mouth and tooth grinding.
- Methamphetamine – also called ice, crystal meth, glass, shards or puff. This drug causes severe tooth decay in a very short time. The term ‘meth mouth’ is used to describe the extensive damage typically caused by this drug. Methamphetamine is highly acidic and attacks tooth enamel. Other side effects include dry mouth, teeth grinding and jaw clenching.
- Drinks containing caffeine are acidic and can cause tooth erosion if consumed regularly and in large amounts. Energy drinks and drip or percolated coffee contain a lot of caffeine, so it’s best to limit or avoid these drinks.
- Any drug dependence or drug use that causes a person to neglect their personal hygiene, diet and dental care can significantly increase the risk of dental (and many other) problems.
Treating tooth and gum problems
Professional treatment depends on the type of drug and its effects on your teeth and gums, but may include:
- Fluoride strengthens teeth and reduces the risk of decay. The dentist may apply topical fluoride to the surface of your teeth. Fluoride mouthwashes or higher-strength fluoride toothpaste may be recommended for use at home.
- Decayed teeth will need dental fillings or other restorative work such as crowns.
- Badly decayed teeth may need to be removed. Bridges, dental implants or partial or full dentures may be recommended.
- The dentist can recommend various cosmetic treatments (such as veneers) that can improve the look of your mouth and smile if it is important to you.
Preventing tooth and gum problems
- If you would like support with addressing a substance use disorder, consider talking to your doctor about support services or entering a drug treatment program.
- Avoid fizzy soft drinks, which are highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel. Drink fluoridated tap water instead.
- Cut back on sweet or sticky foods such as biscuits or lollies.
- Chew sugar-free gum to encourage a steady flow of saliva.
- Pay careful attention to your dental hygiene habits. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and floss once a day. Be gentle when cleaning your teeth to avoid damaging the gums.
- Visit your dentist at least once or twice a year where possible.
- Minimise your intake of alcohol.
- Consider quitting smoking.
- Ask your doctor and dentist for further self-care suggestions, and follow them carefully.
Drug use and dental treatment
If you are scheduled for dental treatment, tell your dentist about your alcohol or smoking intake, as well as any drugs you are taking or have recently taken.
Also tell your dentist about any medications you are taking or have recently taken, including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal medications.
Where to get help
- Your dentist
- Your GP (doctor)
- Australian Dental Association – ’Find a dentist’ or Tel. (03) 8825 4600 in Victoria
- Dental Health Services Victoria – provides public dental services through the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne and community dental clinics, for eligible people Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 outside Melbourne metro
- Meth mouth: How methamphetamine use affects dental health, Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association.
- Dry mouth, 2018, Mayo Clinic.
- Baghaie H, Kisely S, Forbes M, et al. (2017) ‘A systematic review and meta-analysis of the association between poor oral health and substance abuse’, Addiction, vol.112, no. 5, pp. 765-779.
- Link between drug use and poor dental health confirmed, 2017, Science Daily.