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Your Teeth and Drug Use

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.
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