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How Opioid Abuse Affects Oral Health

Aug 30, 2017

By Dean George

Substance abuse isn’t new, and neither are opioids. This well-known pain killing narcotic has been front and center in public consciousness the past year or two.

CNN cited a new Blue Cross Blue Shield in late June that estimated the number of people addicted to opioids had increased 493% from 2010 to 2016. That figure included legal prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illegal drugs like heroin.

How Opioid Addiction Affects Oral Health

When we think of drug abuse we often think about damage to the brain, heart and lungs. These powerful opioid drugs also destroy oral health in general; specifically, the teeth and gums.

Drug addicts have more cavities and periodontal disease than the general population. According to a report from the National Institutes of Health, only 36% of addicts visit the dentist in a single year and 18% brush their teeth less than once a day.

A majority of drug addicts neglect regular oral hygiene and suffer from Xerostomia, commonly known as dry mouth. Below are seven specific reasons how opioid addiction damages oral health:

  • Opioids and opiates often cause users to grind and clench their teeth. Grinding can crack teeth and weaken the jawbone that supports your teeth.
  • Opioids reduce pain, which can lead to the user ignoring or missing painful warning signals caused by cavities or periodontal (gum) disease.
  • Injecting opioids can cause oral fungus or viral infections that harm the mouth.
  • Those individuals hooked on opioids often can’t afford dental visits or will choose to neglect those visits to spend the money to feed their addiction.
  • Addicts often neglect oral hygiene because the fixation on getting their next high will often replace brushing their teeth for days on end.
  • Cravings for high sugar food and beverages combined with bad oral hygiene habits rot and decay teeth.
  • Teeth and gums are often affected due to nutritional deficiencies from not eating right.

Dentists frequently must prescribe low-level opioid painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet after oral surgery procedures like wisdom teeth extractions. These drugs are believed to have played some role in contributing to the current opioid addiction crisis. As a result, the American Dental Association (ADA) has issued guidelines for opioid prescriptions to help advise dentists before prescribing them to their patients.

Sources: americanaddictioncenters.org, cnn.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Photo source: Arkansas Matters   


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