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Tell-tale sign of drug addiction may help more people get to treatment

A tell-tale sign of drug addiction is 'meth mouth' which discolors and destroys users' teeth . Dentists are seeing it among patients, and Syracuse Community Health Center is now screening all patients for it, to help more people get into drug abuse treatment.

It's called Meth Mouth, referring to the methamphetamine use epidemic that started over a decade ago, but people who deal with substance abuse will tell you the symptoms are visible in other drug abuses as well--including heroin and opioid users.

Meth Mouth is the rapid and severe deterioration of teeth. Dentist Dr. Gregory French says the red flag is cavities and black discoloration on the front of teeth (cavities typically form on chewing surfaces, and do not have the discoloration). He says the rapid deterioration is due to drugs causing severe dry mouth (saliva helps protect the teeth). In addition the drugs cause a craving for sweets, and many addicts drink large quantities of soda, with the sugar and acidity contributing to cavities.
And, addicts tend to clench teeth (bruxism) and the grinding makes the teeth look flat. It also makes them more vulnerable to cracking or shattering.

At the Syracuse Community Health Center, Dr. Bill Hines, an addiction medicine specialist, says oral health is a major issue and one of the first things they try to deal with when they see people in the center's substance abuse clinic.
The Center has gotten a 2-year federal grant to screen all patients, no matter what they're coming in for, for possible drug abuse, and the telltale signs of meth mouth are one of the things they look for, according to Behavioral Health Services Director Joan Buckley-White.

Both Hines and French say that even if Meth Mouth is identified, the chances of fixing it are slim: addicts tend not to be concerned about personal hygeine or appearance until well onto the road to recovery. And, as Hines points out, 'you're only going to effectively help a few of the several hundred you see. But, you keep pushing, and hopefully those who don't lose their lives to the process will keep coming back.

With the drug addiction problem increasing, French says Meth Mouth is increasing, and every dentist should be looking for it.

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