Substance abuse can do major damage to organs like the heart, lungs and brain. Many types of substances can also have a significant effect on the teeth and gums. In addition to the harm substances like methamphetamine and even alcohol can do to a person’s teeth, oral hygiene is often neglected when someone is in the throes of addiction. Fortunately, for those who are in recovery, there are many resources available to help.

How Important Is a Smile?

There are many proverbs, sayings and songs about smiles. A smile is an expression of joy, and we all make assumptions about each other based on our smiles. A study by Kelton Global of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry in 2013 revealed that the most important aspect of a good first impression is an attractive smile.

A smile can increase a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth. When you meet someone for the first time, you usually greet them with a handshake and a smile. This is an important part of both personal and professional relationships.

Those who are in recovery from addiction may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their smiles after years of damage. This can have a negative impact on a person’s job, educational opportunities and relationships.

Is Oral Health Important to Your Overall Health?

Having good oral hygiene is a necessary part of overall health. The mouth is full of bacteria, which can typically be managed with good oral hygiene. However, neglecting your teeth can be detrimental to your overall health.

Healthcare professionals and researchers have acknowledged the link between overall health and oral health. In 2012, the American Heart Association released a statement that acknowledged the association between cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease. Additionally, in 2014, researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Florida presented further evidence of a connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease.

How Drug Use Can Damage Your Teeth

Good oral hygiene, healthy saliva, a low-sugar diet and regular visits to the dentist can help lead to healthy teeth and gums. Not only are those who are battling drug or alcohol addictions more likely to have poor oral hygiene habits, but the misuse of substances can actually cause significant tooth damage.

What Is Meth Mouth?

When people talk about the ways in which drug use can damage your teeth, one of the first conditions that comes to mind is meth mouth. Meth mouth is the severe gum disease and tooth decay that is caused by the use of methamphetamine or crystal meth. According to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse published in 2015 in The Journal of the American Dental Association, 31 percent  of those who used methamphetamine had at least six missing teeth, 58 percent had untreated tooth decay and 96 percent had cavities.

Methamphetamine use causes the salivary glands to dry out. When a person has such severe dry mouth, this causes the mouth’s acids and bacteria to eat away at teeth, which can cause cavities. Those who use meth also tend to binge on sugary drinks and food, obsessively grind their teeth and neglect to brush or floss their teeth for long periods of time. These habits can lead to severe tooth decay, and those who have meth mouth often have stained, rotting or blackened teeth. Meth can also cause blood vessels to die, resulting in additional gum problems.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Teeth?

For heavy drinkers, mouth sores, tooth decay and gum disease are all likely. Those who have alcohol use disorder are three times as likely to experience permanent tooth loss. Those who drink darker sodas with liquor, red wine or dark beers are more likely to experience staining of the teeth. And like methamphetamine, alcohol has a tendency to dry the mouth, which can reduce the amount of saliva that helps remove bacteria and plaque from teeth. Additionally, alcohol abuse is the second largest risk factor associated with developing oral cancer.

How Do Other Drugs Damage Your Teeth?

It isn’t just alcohol and methamphetamine that damage your teeth. Many other substances can be a detriment to your oral health:

  • Marijuana – Smoking anything, including marijuana, can lead to oral cancer. Marijuana also causes dry mouth, which can be detrimental to your teeth (as we see with meth mouth).
  • Cocaine – Cocaine is a very acidic substance, and if it comes in contact with the teeth, it can break down the enamel. Many people rub their gums with powdered cocaine, which can cause mouth sores.
  • Opiates and Opioids – Heroin can cause sugar cravings, which can damage the teeth. Opiates can also cause users to grind their teeth, which can cause harm to the jaw.

Other substances can do various damage to oral health as well. For example, amphetamines can cause teeth grinding, aspirin can cause tooth decay and tobacco can lead to oral or throat cancer.

How to Fix Your Teeth After Substance Use

There are numerous options to repair damage done to their teeth due to substance misuse. When you look into the options available to you, it’s best to learn about all the possibilities.

Medical Dental Procedures

Cavity Fillings and Root Canals

Dental fillings are very common, even for those who have not misused substances. Typically, fillings are used to treat cavities or repair cracked teeth. Getting a filling is typically a simple procedure that can be done in one visit to the dentist. There are different types of fillings that are frequently used:


  • Amalgam – silver-colored fillings
  • Gold inlays and onlays – gold-colored fillings
  • Porcelain inlays and onlays – tooth-colored fillings
  • Composite fillings – tooth-colored fillings

Root canal procedures can be performed in both non-vital (non-living) teeth and vital (living) teeth. In this procedure, damaged or infected nerves in the teeth – also known as pulp – are removed, infections are treated and the empty canals in the tooth are filled. Root canals are more complex procedures than fillings, and they usually require two or more visits to the dentist.

Cosmetic Dental Procedures

Veneers and Crowns

A veneer is a cosmetic cover for a tooth, typically made of porcelain. Veneers are bonded to the front of the teeth, which will transform the appearance. The placing of veneers is a procedure that typically involves the removal or some of the tooth structure, impressions of the tooth being made and the wearing of temporary veneers while the actual veneers are created in a lab.
Crowns are similar to veneers. They are caps that cover teeth – also typically created from porcelain – protecting them and improving the appearance. This can be a great option for a damaged tooth that is unable to withstand the pressure of chewing.

Dentures and Dental Implants

In some cases, the best thing to do is have your teeth pulled and get dentures. These can be full dentures for all of the teeth or partial dentures for just some of them. Transitioning to dentures can feel like a big step, and it can take some adjustment, but many people find dentures to be an excellent solution. In most cases, getting dentures will require a first appointment where impressions are taken. After wearing your denture for a few weeks, the dentist will typically check in to see how you are adjusting.
With a dental implant, metal posts or frames are surgically positioned into the jawbone underneath the gums. When these are in place, your dentist can mount replacement teeth onto them. Dental implants require healthy gums and adequate bone structure. It’s also necessary to commit to regular dental visits and superb oral hygiene to maintain the success of long-term implants.

Seeking Treatment For Substance Use Disorder

The best way to determine how to repair any damage done to your teeth is to see your dentist. It’s absolutely imperative, however, that you seek treatment for substance use disorder before you start working on repairing your teeth. Tooth damage is a symptom of substance use disorder, and without treating the root cause, you’ll likely experience additional tooth damage in the future.

The Recovery Village offers medically supervised detox, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. We employ a multidisciplinary approach to addiction care, and we are committed to helping you along the path to recovery. Our addiction specialists can also refer you to a dentist who can advise you on the best course of action.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.