Methamphetamine Abuse Undermines Dental Health

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Dental Xray

Clinicians have long observed that methamphetamine users often have extreme dental decay. Now researchers have, for the first time, provided scientific evidence of this condition and shed light on how the method of drug administration influences dental disease patterns. The NIDA-funded research—conducted by Dr. Vivek Shetty and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles—was in response to the growing body of anecdotal observations and media reports about the oral health effects of methamphetamine abuse. The team of dental, addiction, and public health researchers evaluated comprehensive medical and oral health information collected from 301 adults who had received treatment for methamphetamine abuse and 301 comparable nonusers participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III.

Increased dental disease was one of the most common health conditions among methamphetamine abusers, found in 41 percent. Methamphetamine abusers also had more teeth missing than nonusers (average 5 versus 2). People who injected methamphetamine were twice as likely to have missing teeth as smokers of the drug. Their higher rates likely reflect more severe addiction and accompanying neglect of self-care.

Dr. Shetty and colleagues concluded that dental disease is a distinctive side effect of methamphetamine abuse and that rates and patterns of dental disease may be useful in the early identification of such abuse. The study also found that 29 percent of methamphetamine abusers expressed concern about their dental appearance. Dentists may be able to use this concern to motivate stimulant abusers to participate in targeted behavioral interventions in the dental office or seek help at addiction treatment programs, the researchers say.

Journal of the American Dental Association 141(3):307–318, 2010.