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Poor Oral Hygiene and Substance Abuse Disorders

brushing teeth

What is Oral Hygiene?

The teeth in your mouth, gums, tongue, and oral cavity provide the body with natural defenses against bacteria and diseaseTo ensure a healthy mouth, teeth, gums, and oral cavity, nutrition and appropriate care of teeth and gums (daily brushing and flossing) are necessary. Unhealthy oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and other diseases that impact other body organs.

Some diseases associated with poor oral health might surprise you. And they are serious!

  • Endocarditis: An infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves. This infection spreads through the bloodstream
  • Cardiovascular: “Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.” (Oral bacteria are germs that enter through the mouth)
  • Pregnancy and birth complications: Periodontitis (gum disease) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight
  • Pneumonia: Bacteria that enter through the mouth can find their way into the lungs causing respiratory diseases
  • Oral Cancer (tobacco use is the most common risk factor for this disease)

A range of other diseases stemming from your mouth’s poor health and impacting your body’s well-being include Diabetes, HIV, Osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s.

Signs of poor oral care and hygiene include:

  • Toothache
  • Gum disease, including gingivitis and periodontitis
  • Receding gums
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold foods
  • Dry mouth and teeth
  • Any other condition that creates discomfort and health issues
  • Tooth decay

Additional signs of oral health problems due to a lack of regular oral hygiene care include:

  • Gums that bleed
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pus between the teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Change in the way teeth fit together
  • Missing teeth
  • Oral lesions
  • Inflammation of the corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis)

Substance Abuse and Mouth Disease

As stated above, a lack of good oral hygiene and healthy foods can create havoc in the oral cavity. Some of the more abused drugs cause the deterioration of a healthy mouth. Yet, poor oral hygiene, in combination with drugs, makes an addict susceptible to severe diseases in the body and brain while simultaneously destroying the teeth, gums, and bones in the mouth.

  • Marijuana- Periodontitis can be present in those who frequently use this drug
  • Meth- Dry mouth or loss of saliva used to cleanse the mouth of bacteria produces an increase in harmful bacteria, also Meth, by the nature of the drug reaction, induces clenching and grinding of the teeth, which further erodes the health of the teeth, gums, and bones. Meth mouth, as it is commonly known, is the result of rotting, stained, and crumbling teeth
  • Cocaine- The powder form of Cocaine also reduces the Ph balance in the saliva, which in turn increases harmful bacteria. Cocaine can break down the protective enamel on teeth and facilitate the loss of bone structure. Furthermore, snorting the drug can change one’s sense of smell, create chronic sinusitis, and cause perforation of the palate
  • Tobacco- Periodontitis and oral cancers are commonly linked to tobacco use
  • Alcohol- Dry mouth and tooth erosion are associated with drinking alcohol. Alcohol is linked to an increased risk of mouth cancer, especially when combined with tobacco
  • Heroin- Teeth fall out and can snap off completely

Additionally, those addicted to substances tend to have sugar-based diets that also lead to extensive tooth decay. People with extreme dry mouth, or xerogenic patients, usually have problems with “chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking. They may develop cracked lips, erythematic mucosa (digestive tract inflammation), sores, tooth decay, and periodontitis. Many substance abusers use drugs to mask tooth and mouth pain and avoid seeking professional help. Yet “patients with substance abuse disorders experience more severe caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease than the general population….” The irony of using drugs to manage oral cavity problems is that the issues are directly linked back to drug use and lifestyle choices.

A recent study by New York University examined oral health problems such as poor oral hygiene, tooth cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. While the study focused on older adults, the loss of teeth and poor oral health seemed to be linked to increased cognitive decline. Researchers found that those missing teeth had a 48% higher risk of cognitive impairment and a 28% higher risk of dementia.

Poor oral hygiene can lead to increased bacteria in the mouth and gum disease, raising the risk of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. Beta-amyloid plaque forms a sticky substance in the brain that blocks the synapses used to communicate from cell to cell–which then causes brain cells to die. This plaque and another are most often associated with Alzheimer’s.

“Rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia are two diseases that have been linked to gum disease…[B]acteria normally present in the mouth can also release toxins that make their way into the brain.”

Inside the mouth, there are 6 billion bacteria. Think about how many kinds of bacteria are swallowed during the day. “Bacterial infection and inflammation involved in periodontitis could also weaken the blood-brain barrier, which prevents toxic substances from entering the brain.” Additionally, it has been found that chewing, a problem for those taking certain drugs discussed above, will experience a decrease in blood flow to the brain. As stated in reverse, chewing increases the blood flow to the brain and is involved in maintaining cognitive function. Thus, the loss of teeth contributes to cognitive impairment and decline.

SUD Treatment Works

The downward spiral of poor health can be halted. The lounge toward dementia and cognitive decline can be stopped. Drug(s) use is never the answer to dealing with social, economic, and psychological issues. Drugs, as this discussion reveals, can impact the body in profoundly destructive ways. The excellent news—treatment can break the cycle of addiction. It can provide you or your loved one with a path toward healthier living. Don’t let addiction continue to destroy your health and your life. You can live a productive, fulfilling life drug-free. Call now for a consultation with one of our trained staff and begin the path to recovery now.