Smoking tik makes a hell of a meth of your mouth
Cape Town clinic uncovers a dental disaster among methamphetamine addicts
Dentists in the drug-plagued Western Cape have discovered a condition they have dubbed “tik teeth” or “meth mouth”.
A study of 300 patients at Tygerberg Oral Health Centre has produced the first evidence of a dental disaster caused by smoking tik, or methamphetamine.
Meth mouth causes extensive tooth decay and gum disease, and is virtually impossible to stop, said Professor Sudeshni Naidoo of the University of the Western Cape dentistry faculty, which runs the Tygerberg clinic.
Naidoo and colleagues began investigating the phenomenon after noticing that cavities, which normally start in the fissures and pits of teeth, were forming “on the smooth surfaces ... leading eventually to total destruction of the tooth”.
Naidoo and colleague Dirk Smit, a Tygerberg Hospital community dentistry specialist, studied more than 300 tik smokers between the ages of 21 and 29 and discovered that the drug reduced saliva production.
Uncomfortable from having a dry mouth, tik users often consumed “vast amounts” of sugary cooldrinks.
“With no or very little protective saliva in the mouth, this creates the perfect acidic conditions for rapid wear and tooth decay by weakening surface enamel,” said a UWC statement.
“To make matters worse, tik users often grind their teeth as a result of drug-induced hyperactivity, anxiety and nervousness. This causes accelerated tooth wear.”
A days-long tik high also meant users ignored basic dental hygiene, such as brushing, which exacerbated the problem.
High and dry
Tik affects the salivary glands, inhibiting saliva secretion and causing a dry mouth, or xerostomia.
Saliva is the primary defence in fighting bad bacteria in the mouth and protecting the teeth.
Other than their role in breaking down starches and fats in our diets, the enzymes in saliva – which is 99% water – also keep the mouth moist, buffered, and in a state of homeostasis; that is, a pH balance with just the right amount of acid in the mouth.
Why tik has this effect is up for debate. One theory is that it causes a narrowing of the blood vessels in salivary glands, decreasing the flow of saliva. Another is that the drug affects those parts of the brain that control the salivary glands.
– Source: UWC
“Patients usually come to the clinic because of pain, but by that stage most of the teeth are already badly decayed and need extraction or several sessions to repair,” said Naidoo.
“And often once the pain is gone, the bigger problem is that patients simply don’t turn up for repeat appointments.”
Naidoo said health care workers required training to recognise tik teeth. This would encourage dental referrals.
“Perhaps seeing images of a ‘meth mouth’ might go a long way to putting anyone off drug use for life,” she said.
Smoking cigarettes weakens the ability of pulp in teeth to fight illness and disease, US researchers said on Thursday.
Anita Aminoshariae, associate professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, said smokers had greater chances of developing gum disease and were nearly twice as likely as non-smokers to require a root canal.
Thirty-two smokers and 37 non-smokers with endodontic pulpitis – more commonly known as dental-tissue inflammation – were included in the study.
“We began with a look at the dental pulp of smokers compared with non-smokers,” said Aminoshariae. “We hypothesised that the natural defences would be reduced in smokers; we didn’t expect them to have them completely depleted.”
One interesting find, Aminoshariae noted, was that for two patients who quit smoking, those defences returned.