How Drug Abuse Affects Your Mouth

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on December 17, 2021
3 min read

Most street drugs are illegal for good reason. Along with often being addictive, they're bad for you in many ways.

You may have noticed that many drug addicts have bad teeth. That's because drugs such as methamphetamine (meth), heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and even marijuana can cause problems for your teeth and gums. Here are a few of the main reasons:

  • They all can cause dry mouth, which means you make less saliva. You need saliva to clean your teeth.
  • Drugs that are stimulants -- like meth, cocaine, and ecstasy -- can make you clench or grind your teeth. This weakens your teeth and can even make them break. It also can cause pain in your jaw.
  • If you abuse drugs, especially stronger ones like meth or heroin, you're less likely to take good care of your teeth or go to the dentist. That can let decay quickly get worse.
  • Many people who use drugs also smoke. This can make the effects of drug use on your mouth worse.

Here are some other ways common street drugs can hurt your mouth.

Methamphetamine (Meth)
In one study, 96% of people who used meth had cavities and 58% had untreated tooth decay. People use the term "meth mouth" to describe this condition of stained, badly damaged teeth.

One reason for the damage is that the drug is acidic and causes vomiting and reflux. And even though it makes you less hungry, it makes you crave soda and sweets.

The damage can happen in a short amount of time and often leads to the loss of teeth.

People who inject heroin into their veins can expect damage similar to what's caused by meth -- rotten, discolored, broken, and missing teeth, as well as gum disease.

Heroin is a pain-killing drug. So in addition to the ways most illegal drugs can hurt your mouth, it also may cause you to ignore the pain of damaged teeth and gums. That lets the problems get worse.

This drug can have different effects on your mouth, depending on how you take it. When you snort it, cocaine can damage the tissue between your nose and the roof of your mouth, eventually causing a hole and making it hard to talk or eat.

Like meth, it's very acidic. So when you smoke crack or put powdered cocaine in your mouth, the acids coat your teeth and can break down their protective enamel. This can cause gum disease and tooth decay. If you rub it on your gums, it can cause mouth sores.

Smoke from pot is a carcinogen and can cause mouth cancer. In addition, if you smoke pot often, you can develop something called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which leads to nausea and vomiting. The acids from your stomach that end up in your mouth can wear away enamel and lead to tooth decay.