Can using drugs affect my teeth and oral health?
Yes. The use of illegal drugs, such as Methamphetamine (meth, speed, ice, glass and crystal), Heroin, Cocaine, Cannabis and Ecstasy can all have an adverse effect on the health of your teeth and gums.
How do drugs affect my dental health?
Many drugs can cause a craving for sugar, such as sweets and fizzy drinks, which can cause tooth decay.
Drugs such as Methamphetamine and Heroin can also cause you to have a dry mouth. Because there is a reduced saliva flow in the mouth, this can also lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
Some drugs, such as Ecstasy and Cocaine can lead to jaw-clenching and tooth grinding. This can result cracked or broken teeth, as well as headaches and jaw pain.
Being ‘high’ on drugs could also make you less likely to remember to brush your teeth regularly. This could lead to gum disease, dental decay and tooth loss.
Does drinking alcohol affect my teeth and gums?
Alcoholic drinks such as white wine, beer and cider can be very acidic. This will cause erosion of the enamel on your teeth, possibly leading to pain and sensitivity.
Spirits such as vodka and whiskey are very high in alcohol and will give you dry mouth.
Many mixers and alcopops are high in sugar. This can cause dental decay.
How does this happen?
When you eat or drink anything acidic, your teeth come under an ‘acid attack’ for up to one hour. During this time, your enamel is weakened and your saliva is working to return the mouth to a neutral pH level. Because drugs reduce the amount of saliva you produce, this process will take much longer than usual and your teeth could be under attack for long periods of time.
When you eat or drink anything that contains sugar, it reacts with the plaque in your mouth and produces plaque acids. It is these acids that attack our teeth and cause dental decay.
How can I help prevent the problems caused by drugs and alcohol?
A good oral hygiene routine at home can partly help to reduce the damage caused by taking drugs and drinking alcohol.
However, reducing or stopping these bad habits would be the best long-term solution for your overall health and the health of your teeth and gums.
How can I look after my oral health?
You should brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, using a fluoride toothpaste that contains between 1350-1500 ppm (parts per million) fluoride.
You should not brush your teeth for one hour after you have eaten or drank anything. If you brush your teeth before this time, you might brush away small particles of softened enamel, which can lead to dental erosion.
Cleaning in-between your teeth with interdental brushes, tape or floss will help to prevent any plaque or debris from building-up and reduce the risk of decay and gum disease.
If you want to use a mouthwash, this can be very useful. However, do not use the mouthwash within one hour of brushing your teeth. This will wash away the fluoride from the toothpaste and leave your teeth at risk of tooth decay. Mouthwash should not replace regular tooth brushing.
To help reduce tooth decay, cut down on how often you have sugary foods and drinks.
If your dentist believes that you are at a high risk of dental decay, due to either drugs, alcohol or a sugary diet, he may prescribe a high-fluoride toothpaste for you to use to help to protect the teeth.
Does vomiting affect my oral health?
Yes. The acid in the vomit will cause the enamel to weaken. It is important that you do not brush your teeth straight after vomiting. You can either use a fluoride mouthwash, chew sugar-free, or have a drink of water to help to neutralise this acid.
How can I find an NHS dentist?
By entering your postcode on the homepage at www.nhs.uk you can search for the nearest dentist to you, that is taking on new patients. Alternatively, you can call the NHS Find a Dentist Service on 0300 311 2233.
If you are worried about paying for your NHS dental treatment, you can apply for help with these costs by filling in a HC1 form, available from a Job Centre Plus.
Where can I find more information?
The Oral Health Foundation produce many patient information leaflets about caring for your oral health. You may find the following titles useful to you.
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