How Substances Abuse Affect Dental Health?

Addiction is a problem in the United States that affects approximately 20 million people. Even more concerning is that drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have increased threefold during the 1990s, with the majority of users being between the ages of 18 and 25. 

People who regularly consume and abuse intoxicating substances from alcohol to marijuana risk physical harm. Addiction to any substance is a serious issue, and if left untreated, it could stop your life in its tracks. Fortunately, numerous rehabilitation facilities and recovery centers, such as Jackson House Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers, help you get the right treatment and achieve sobriety. 

Substance abuse is often associated with a higher risk of developing disorders affecting the digestive tract, the lungs, the brain, or the heart. However, you should know that all kinds of substance abuse can have far-reaching effects on the whole body and that most types of substances can also impact your oral and dental health. 

In this article, we’re taking a close look at the connection between substance abuse and dental health and how the most common intoxicating substance can compromise your mouth, teeth, and gums.

Dental Health And Substance Abuse

Though it may simply concern your teeth, gums, and mouth, did you know that your oral health can reveal a lot about your general wellbeing? 

While it may seem less alarming than getting lung or heart diseases, damage to oral health because of substance abuse can cause lasting harm to teeth and gums. This could make eating difficult even after substance use has stopped. Additionally, it can also undermine an individual’s self-esteem, making a recovery from substance abuse even more challenging.

It is also more significant than you might realize because issues with your mouth can impact other parts of your body. 

The mouth is full of healthy microorganisms, just like other body areas. That being said, some of these seemingly harmless bacteria can be a concern as a point of entry to your body, particularly your digestive and respiratory tracts. 

Typically, a healthy immune system and proper oral hygiene may keep these germs under control. However, a compromised immune system coupled with poor dental health brought on by substance abuse can increase the number of bacteria, leading to oral infections. Moreover, increased bacteria and the associated infection can cause severe gum problems and contribute to the development of certain diseases. Furthermore, certain drugs, such as opioids, can inhibit saliva flow, which increases the bacteria population.

5 Common Addictive Substance And Their Impact On Dental Health

In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at these common addictive substances and how they can affect your dental health. 


Tobacco is the first item on our list since it is the substance most frequently linked to issues with oral and dental health problems. Whether you chew or smoke tobacco, you’re likely to significantly damage your teeth and mouth. It is even problematic that anyone over 21 years of age can easily purchase a box of cigarettes.

Tobacco products are one of the most common causes of tooth discoloration, bad breath, and increased buildup of tartar and plaque. It can also cause gum diseases by affecting soft tissue and bone attachment to your teeth. In addition, a study shows that smoking interferes with the normal function of your gum tissue cells, making you more prone to infections like periodontal diseases, impairing blood flow to the gums, and affecting wound healing. 

Furthermore, smoking tobacco can also cause bone loss in the jaw, an increased risk of developing leukoplakia or white patches inside the mouth and oral cancer. 


Alcohol, like tobacco, is widely available in your local store. While it is legal, alcohol is highly addictive and can cause harm to your body, particularly in your mouth. 

For one, alcoholics are at higher risk of developing gingival diseases, tooth decay, and caries. This is because alcohol can reduce the secretion of saliva, causing dry mouth. With less saliva, bacteria can flourish in your mouth and increase the amount of tartar buildup. Plus, some mixers are high in sugar which further contributes to dental decay.

In addition, alcoholic drinks such as wine and beer can be very acidic. This causes the enamel on your teeth to erode, resulting in sensitivity and pain. Also, keep in mind that alcohol consumption, like tobacco use, is a common risk factor for oral cancer. Take note that this risk further increases when alcohol is consumed with cigarettes. 

Alcohol can also be harmful to your tongue. In general, alcoholics may experience altered taste sensations, which are frequently described as having a ‘metallic taste.’ Additionally, too much alcohol can also cause inflammation of the tongue, corners of the mouth, and gingiva. Also, long-term effects include a burning sensation on the tongue and painful fissures at the corners of the mouth. 


Cannabis has been a hot topic for the past few years, with more states legalizing the use of cannabis for both recreational and medical use. While it’s touted to help in relieving pain, depression, and anxiety, among others, cannabis abuse can have a significant effect on your body and mental health.

Like smoking tobacco, smoking cannabis or marijuana has adverse effects on your mouth, teeth, and gums. Cannabis smoke contains most of the same carcinogens and more tar than tobacco cigarettes. Furthermore, cannabis smoke can cause dry mouth and various oral complications such as periodontal diseases, leukoplakia, and stomatitis, which is the inflammation of the lips and mouth. In addition, cannabis can also increase your risk of neck and mouth cancers. 

While those who smoke marijuana don’t usually smoke as frequently as cigarette smokers, they tend to hold the smoke in their lungs and mouths a bit longer, which can cause long-term issues for your oral and overall health. Plus, it’s also a fact that cannabis burns at a higher temperature than tobacco. This increases the likelihood of thermal injury to the inside of your mouth.


Cocaine is an illegal stimulant in the form of crystals or powders. As a highly addictive drug, cocaine is abused by over five million Americans. In terms of oral health, cocaine can cause varying damages, depending on how it was taken. 

When you snort it, cocaine can gradually damage the tissue between the roof of your mouth and nose, causing a hole and making it hard to eat or talk. Like alcohol, cocaine is also acidic. So, if it comes in contact with your teeth, the enamel of your teeth will begin to erode. 

While crystal cocaine is most commonly used for smoking, some people also put powdered cocaine in their mouths which is absorbed by the gums. Rubbing powdered cocaine into the gums can lead to mouth sores, also causing damage and infection, eventually leading to periodontal diseases in the long run. 

In addition, cocaine can also cause transient chorea, a movement disorder that manifests as mouth and jaw-related muscle spasms. It looks like having a strange smile or grinding the teeth. Additionally, grinding your teeth can fracture and harm your enamel, the gums around them, and the area around your jaw.


Opiates, more commonly known as opioids, are a group of drugs that healthcare providers prescribe to manage severe to moderate pain. That said, opioids can become addictive since not only can they dull the pain but also produce a strong sense of euphoria. This, combined with the development of tolerance, can lead to opioid abuse or use disorder.

Opioids, like most addictive substances, can dry out your oral tissues, creating acidity and an increase in bacteria, which can contribute to typical dental health problems like bad breath and tooth decay. Addiction to opioids can also lead to a rise in acid reflux attacks. It not only causes discomfort and potential esophageal injury but can also cause sore gum tissues and tooth enamel damage. 

While opioids are not stimulants, they may cause bruxism or become more prone to grinding your teeth. This can cause cracks and chips on your tooth enamel while weakening the jaw. Moreover, opioid abuse can also result in decreased blood supply to oral tissue, which results in tissue death and weakened tooth structures. Also, remember that with diminished blood flow and less saliva production, your mouth will become more susceptible to painful ulcers and mouth sores. 

Lastly, keep in mind that opioids work by numbing the body’s pain receptors. The pain is masked when drugs are misused. This keeps you from noticing any changes or pain in your gums and teeth caused by dental conditions such as periodontal disease or severe decay.


The majority of intoxicating substances are prohibited for a reason. Along with being addictive, these substances are harmful for you in many ways, including issues with your oral health. 

So, if you’re addicted to any intoxicating substances, it’s crucial to take the necessary steps to stop. Aside from improving your dental health, it may also lower your long-term risk of developing more significant diseases and issues. 

Medical Disclaimer: All the content available on the website is just for informational purposes. It’s not a substitute for any Professional advice. Don’t take it personally. As a medical student, I’m just trying to use my information through my content, and please keep in mind it’s not written by a professional doctor. Use the data just for educational purposes.

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