A multidisciplinary group of researchers from the UCLA School of
Dentistry, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA
Integrated Substance Abuse Program have published new findings that
provide conclusive evidence of disproportionately high rates of dental
disease in methamphetamine abusers.
In the largest study of meth abusers to date, Dr. Vivek Shetty and
his colleagues systematically investigated the patterns and severity of
dental disease in 571 methamphetamine abusers. The team found that over
96 percent of those studied experienced dental cavities and 58 percent
had untreated tooth decay. Only 23 percent retained all of their natural
teeth, compared 48 percent for the general population in the U.S.
The study also found that women methamphetamine abusers had higher
rates of tooth loss and decay, as well as a greater prevalence of
cavities in the front teeth.
The researchers also looked at the rate of periodontitis — serious
gum infection that can lead to tooth loss — among methamphetamine
abusers. They found that it was unusually high, with more than 89
percent showing total periodontitis. Methamphetamine abusers who were
older, who were African American or who smoked cigarettes were more
likely to suffer from severe periodontitis.
The study also found that 40 percent of the methamphetamine abusers
were self-conscious or embarrassed about the condition of their teeth or
The study provides valuable research and public health insight into the
oral health of methamphetamine abusers and informs general health
providers and addiction specialists about the oral health problems in
meth abusers. The prevalence and patterns of dental and periodontal
disease could alert dentists to undisclosed methamphetamine use in their
patients and help in the development of treatment plans.
The high rates of dental disease and the concerns about dental
appearance among methamphetamine abusers could be used by dentists as
the basis for screening, brief behavioral interventions and referrals
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 12 million
people have tried methamphetamines at least once. The consequences of
abusing this drug can include mental disorders, extreme weight loss,
skin sores and severe dental problems, known as “meth mouth.” Prior to
this study, the evidence for meth mouth was largely anecdotal.