The American opioid epidemic is one of the greatest healthcare crises of our time. The U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s opioids, and statistics show that there are at least 100 opioid overdose deaths per day. Those are scary statistics!
Today, I want to share with you some of the adverse effects opioids can have on your oral health. The purpose of this article is not to shame or scare you, but simply to educate you on risks, precautions, and tips for maintaining a healthy mouth while using opioids.
What exactly is an opioid? Prescription pain relievers such as codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone are categorized as opioids. Unlike over-the-counter pain medications, these prescriptions cause impairment and have a high risk of abuse and addiction.
The street drug heroin is also an opioid, and I’m sure you’ve heard about the addiction and devastating health effects of this infamous illegal substance. These substances react with opioid receptors in your brain. Some people have more receptors than others, putting them at higher risk for addiction.
How opioids affect your mouth. When prescribed by a healthcare professional and used correctly for a short amount of time, prescription pain relievers don’t affect your teeth very much. But – when used in excess or over a long period of time – any opioid, legal or illegal, could have an effect on your oral health.
- Cravings. Opioids cause you to crave sweets. The sugars in sweet foods are fuel for the bacteria that secrete the acid that eats away at your enamel and results in cavities. A heightened sweet tooth over a long period time is a recipe for cavities, toothaches, infections, or even tooth loss.
- Gum Disease. It’s common for patients with a history of opioid addiction to show signs of periodontal disease. This is a more advanced form of gum disease that can result in swollen and bleeding gums, bone loss, and eventually tooth loss.
- Dry mouth. Many prescription medications list dry mouth as a side effect. All forms of opioids can reduce the production and flow of saliva, causing dry mouth. This condition can cause a tremendous increase in cavities and gum disease.
- Rapid decline. When I see patients struggling with addiction, one of the scariest things about the health of their mouth is the rate at which their condition worsens. Those with an opioid dependency can exhibit what is known is “meth mouth.” Commonly associated with the illegal drug methamphetamine, “meth mouth” can also happen to other drug users.
“Meth mouth” is the rapid decay of most or all of the teeth in the mouth. There are usually cavities in every tooth, and decay is so advanced that it’s extremely costly or even impossible to savage the teeth. This can happen with as little as six months to a year of prolonged drug use.
What you can do. My advice to anyone using recreational or prescription drugs is to drink tap water. Drinking lots of water can help with all of the problems I listed above. It washes away harmful bacteria and keeps your mouth moist. Since tap water is often fluoridated, choosing tap water over bottled water helps fight more decay.
Also, try to stay on top of brushing and flossing. It’s recommended that you brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. By trying to keep up with these good oral health habits, you’re taking care of your teeth and preventing further damage.
Consider seeing a dentist. It can be scary to go to the dentist knowing that your teeth are not in the best shape, but the right dentist will help you get your oral health back on track in a caring and understanding way. And regular dental care will help minimize the damage that opioids do to your teeth.
What we can do to help. At Shamblott Family Dentist, we want to meet patients where they are right now. No matter what’s going on in your life, your oral health is important. When I see a patient struggling with an opioid addiction, the first thing I think is how glad I am that they came to me.
As a healthcare professional, my top priorities are keeping patients safe, healthy, and educated. Shamblott Family Dentist is a 100% judgment-free zone. Any patients that disclose to me that they use or have used opioids will be treated with care and respect. I will not shame you or try to get you in trouble in any way.
We look forward to seeing you! Call to schedule an appointment today.