Healthy teeth and gums depend on good oral hygiene, a low-sugar diet, 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.
Prevention is certainly better than cure, as dental restoration treatments can be expensive and time-consuming.
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 decay-causing mouth acids
- contains substances crucial to the ongoing process of re-mineralisation, which is the repair of tooth enamel (the hard surface layer that protects the tooth) that has been damaged by acids
- has a washing effect preventing stagnation of food particles.
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. Drugs that carry a high risk to your oral health include:
- alcohol – regular intake of alcohol can cause a dry mouth and tooth erosion, as most alcohols are acidic
- cannabis – also called marijuana, pot and weed, can cause dry mouth and can lead to an increased risk of gum problems. Cannabis smoke can cause oral cancer
- cocaine – also called coke, blow or nose candy. Users sometimes rub cocaine over their gums, causing ulceration of gums and the underlying bone. Cocaine mixed with saliva creates an extremely acidic solution that 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 can cause tooth wear by tooth grinding (bruxism)
- ecstasy – also called love drug, E and eckies. Side effects of ecstasy include tooth grinding, jaw clenching and dry mouth
- heroin – also called H or smack. 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 speed, ice or meth. This drug causes severe tooth decay in a very short time. Dental professionals have coined the term ‘meth mouth’ 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
- tobacco – smoking is associated with an increased rate of gum problems as well as an increased risk of cancers, including oral cancer.
Any drug dependence or drug use that causes the person to neglect their personal hygiene, diet and dental care can significantly increase the risk of dental (and many other) problems.
Treatment for drug-related tooth and gum problems
Professional treatment depends on the particular 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 preparations to the surface of your teeth. Fluoride tablets or mouthwashes may be recommended for use at home.
- Decayed teeth will need dental fillings and perhaps restorative work such as crowns.
- Badly decayed teeth may need to be removed (extracted). Partial dentures, bridges, dental implants or full dentures may be recommended.
- The dentist can recommend various treatments (such as veneers) that can improve the look of your mouth and smile.
Drug use and prevention of tooth and gum problems
- If you have a drug dependence problem, consider talking to your doctor about entering a drug treatment program.
- Avoid carbonated soft drinks, which are highly acidic and can erode tooth enamel. Drink fluoridated 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 tooth brushing and flossing habits. Clean your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- 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 doctor
- Community dental clinics Tel. 1300 360 054 to find your local clinic
- The Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne:
- General enquiries or to make an appointment Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 (outside Melbourne metro) Monday to Friday, 8:30 am to 5 pm
- Dental emergencies Tel. (03) 9341 1000 or 1800 833 039 (outside Melbourne metro) 8.00 am to 8.30 pm, Monday to Friday, or 8.30 am to 8.00 pm, weekends and public holidays
- Dental Health Services Victoria Tel. (03) 9341 1000 (standard charges apply) or 1800 833 039 (country callers), 8.30 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday
- DirectLine Tel. 1800 888 236 – for 24-hour confidential drug and alcohol telephone counselling, information and referral
- Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch Tel. (03) 8825 4600
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.