Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that produces feelings of euphoria and intense pleasure but can also cause physiological and psychological dependence. Cocaine addiction has many adverse side effects, including various medical, psychological and social problems. However, chronic cocaine use can also adversely impact dental health. Cocaine users have higher rates of tooth decay and fewer number of teeth than individuals who don’t use the drug.
The effects of cocaine on dental health vary based on the method of use. Especially if its derivative, crack, is used. Crack cocaine is the most potent and popular form of the drug. Crack can be smoked or inhaled — whereas cocaine is generally inhaled or snorted — but crack may also be used orally by rubbing it on the gums.
Cocaine Can Cause Perforation of the Oral Palate
Cocaine is a stimulant that results in the constriction of blood vessels known as vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction results in a reduced supply of oxygen to the organs, leading to necrosis (cell death due to injury). Cocaine, when taken through the nasal route, results in perforation of the nasal septum and surrounding tissue. This effect can lead to complications involving the oral cavity by causing perforation of the palate — the roof of the mouth. Such oronasal perforations can result in difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing.
Cocaine Can Cause Bruxism and Xerostomia
Bruxism refers to the unconscious clenching and grinding of teeth. Many people clench or grind their teeth in their sleep, even without using cocaine. However, cocaine intake can increase the symptoms of bruxism, resulting in jaw pain as well as causing teeth to become brittle.
Xerostomia is mouth dryness due to a reduced flow of saliva. Crack cocaine can cause xerostomia, which is associated with a higher risk of tooth decay and gum diseases.
Cocaine Causes Dental Erosion
Dental erosion, or loss of the tooth enamel coating, is generally associated with trauma caused by acid exposure. Cocaine powder is a salt (cocaine hydrochloride) that has a low pH (4.5), and is acidic. When taken through the oral route, or even when inhaled, cocaine can mix with the saliva which increases the acidity of the saliva. This mixture can result in the dissolution of the mineral calcium phosphate hydroxyapatite present in teeth and may cause damage to the enamel as well as damaging the hard dentin tissue underlying the enamel.
Tooth abrasions and gum lacerations may also result from excessively vigorous brushing that occurs when people are high.
Cocaine Causes Periodontitis
Periodontitis is a gum disease characterized by the inflammation of the periodontal tissue that makes up the gums and structures that support the gums. Cocaine, when rubbed on the gums, can cause inflammation of the periodontal tissue resulting in the resorption of the alveolar bone. The alveolar bone is a part of the periodontal tissue that lies underneath the gums and is vital for supporting teeth. Cocaine use may result in the retraction of the gums and other periodontal tissue. Cocaine-induced periodontitis can cause tooth loss.
Effects of Cocaine Use on Nutrition
Although cocaine use results in decreased food intake, it can result in the consumption of a high fat and carbohydrate diet. Sugars, present in such a diet, are digested by enzymes in the saliva and provide a substrate for bacteria to proliferate, thus increasing the risk of dental cavities.
Cocaine users also may not maintain oral hygiene and are unlikely to seek professional dental help, resulting in the worsening of tooth decay and other associated problems. Also, having dental work conducted can be difficult because interactions between cocaine and local anesthetics like lidocaine can cause seizures.
Key Points: Cocaine and Tooth Decay
Besides affecting physiological and psychological processes, cocaine can also adversely impact dental health. These effects include:
- Erosion of the enamel
- Perforation of the palate
- Periodontitis characterized by retraction of gums
- Dryness of mouth increasing susceptibility to cavities
- Some of the effects of cocaine use on dental health may be irreversible
Behavioral therapy and admission to a rehabilitation center may be necessary for overcoming cocaine addiction. If you or a loved one suffer from cocaine addiction, contact The Recovery Village. Calls are free and representatives are available at any time to talk with you about addiction treatment and how it can help you. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
Brand, HS., Gonggrijp, S., Blanksma, CJ. “Cocaine and oral health.” British Dental Journal. April 2008. Accessed May 23, 2019. Antoniazzi, RP., Sari, AR., Casarin, M., MORAES, CM., Feldens, CA. “Association between crack cocaine use and reduced salivary flow.” Brazilian Oral Research, June 2017. Accessed May 23, 2019 Antoniazzi, RP., Zanatta, FB., Rösing, CK., Feldens, CA. “Association among periodontitis and the use of crack cocaine and other illicit drugs.” Journal of Periodontology, July 2016. Accessed May 23, 2019. Ersche, KD., Stochl, J., Woodward, JM., Fletcher, PC. “The skinny on cocaine: insights into eating behavior and body weight in cocaine-dependent men.” Appetite, December 2013. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Brand, HS., Gonggrijp, S., Blanksma, CJ. “Cocaine and oral health.” British Dental Journal. April 2008. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Antoniazzi, RP., Sari, AR., Casarin, M., MORAES, CM., Feldens, CA. “Association between crack cocaine use and reduced salivary flow.” Brazilian Oral Research, June 2017. Accessed May 23, 2019
Antoniazzi, RP., Zanatta, FB., Rösing, CK., Feldens, CA. “Association among periodontitis and the use of crack cocaine and other illicit drugs.” Journal of Periodontology, July 2016. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Ersche, KD., Stochl, J., Woodward, JM., Fletcher, PC. “The skinny on cocaine: insights into eating behavior and body weight in cocaine-dependent men.” Appetite, December 2013. Accessed May 23, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.