Meth Mouth: The Effects of Meth Addiction

Meth addiction has one of the most widely recognized signs—meth mouth. While all drug abuse causes psychological and physiological changes, methamphetamines, also called meth or crystal meth, are some of the most fast-acting, highly addictive drugs. Meth users can experience extensive tooth decay and gum disease in less than a year of abusing meth. More than being painful and unsightly, meth mouth is a warning sign of escalating meth addiction and more severe health problems.

What Is Meth Mouth?

The term meth mouth is a broad label referring to oral damage caused by chronic meth abuse, including sores on the lips and around the mouth, stained rotting teeth, extensive tooth decay, and gum disease.

On top of causing people to be self-conscious, meth mouth can be painful and lead to more serious, life-threatening infections and health complications if left untreated.

Meth Mouth Symptoms

Many people are familiar with the end product of meth mouth—rotting, stained, or missing teeth with diseased-looking gums; but the damage and decay happen progressively. The psychological and physiological changes from meth happen quicker than other drugs. One of the main signs of meth abuse is a rapid decline in dental health, partially caused by periods of poor oral hygiene due to mental health issues and addiction escalating.

Common meth mouth symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth or xerostomia
  • Craving sugary drinks or candy
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods
  • Only eat soft foods or liquids
  • Jaw clenching
  • Teeth grinding
  • Flattened or worn down back teeth
  • Lockjack
  • Swollen gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Receding gum line
  • Canker sores
  • Open sores on the tongue and cheeks
  • Dry, cracked, or peeling lips
  • Sores or burns around the mouth
  • Neglecting dental care like flossing and brushing teeth
  • Excessive cavities
  • Cracked teeth
  • Broken teeth
  • Missing teeth
  • Slow healing wounds
  • Candidiasis, or chronic bacterial and yeast infections in the mouth
  • Swollen, smooth tongue

The severity and timeline of meth mouth increase with higher amounts of meth used and the longer the addiction goes untreated.

meth mouth symptoms

What Does Meth Mouth Look Like?

Meth mouth will look different depending on how advanced a meth user’s addiction is; it might look like someone with bad oral health needs some attention, or they might have extensive tooth decay with stained rotting teeth with visible sores around their lips. Without seeing the inside of their mouth, a person’s cheeks might look visibly sunken in and saggy, or you may see them grinding their teeth and tensing their jaw.

It is important to remember that people struggling with substance abuse are still human beings with feelings. Meth users are aware of their appearance, and many are already self-conscious and embarrassed. Bringing up their physical condition when discussing how to find treatment for their dental health and treatment programs for their addiction should be compassionate and avoid shaming them.

What Causes Meth Mouth?

The assumption that smoking meth is the only cause of meth mouth is wrong. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), meth users who smoke the drug have the same rate of dental disease as people who snort or inject it.

While smoking meth increases the likelihood of burns, the side effects of meth and the ingredients in meth cause the majority of meth mouth symptoms. Many meth users also smoke cigarettes, which compounds oral damage.

Some of the causes of meth mouth include:

Dry Mouth

Saliva forms a protective barrier in the mouth to prevent bacteria from sticking to teeth and causing decay. Meth is acidic and slows down saliva production, allowing acid and bacteria to attack and damage the teeth.

Cravings for Sweets

Meth users crave sugary drinks and candy. When the mouth is already dry, this allows the sugar to coat and stick to the teeth. Studies have shown that bacteria breed faster when it is attached to sugar. Dry, plaque-coated teeth are the perfect environment to speed up cavities and decay.

Teeth Grinding

Meth is a stimulant and causes muscle tensing and teeth grinding, which wears down and weakens teeth, eventually causing them to crack and break. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can also cause temporomandibular joint (TMJ) damage, which is popping, cramping, and limited, painful movement in the jaw joint.


Meth suppresses the appetite, leeches nutrients from the body, and shrinks blood vessels. Without circulation and the nutrients need to heal injuries, wounds heal slowly or not at all, gums recede, and the roots of teeth rot and die off.

Meth Binges

Meth is a highly addictive drug, and meth users generally spend days on end binging, causing them to neglect self-care and periods of poor oral hygiene. A crash often follows binges when meth users spend several days sleeping and recovering, which can also cause them to forgo hygiene. Repeated neglect of dental health accelerates meth mouth.

The Ingredients in Meth

Meth has a variety of components that can be acidic and corrosive to teeth and soft tissue. Smoking and snorting meth puts them in direct contact with oral tissue, but injecting meth also allows them into the bloodstream, which will reach the gums, tongue, and roots of teeth.

Finances and Stigma

Meth addiction can be all-consuming, and meth users spend most of their money on necessities and drugs. Dental care is expensive and seems pointless to someone who knows they will continue to use meth and damage their teeth. Furthermore, all types of drug users have reported avoiding medical treatment due to the stigma of addiction.

meth mouth dentist

How Long Does It Take to Get Meth Mouth?

Within a year of using methamphetamines, meth mouth can happen. Long-term meth abuse is more likely to lead to severe, irreversible damage; however, even a few months of heavy meth use can cause extensive tooth decay and gum disease.

Meth Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, Northridge Addiction Treatment Center can help.

At NATC, we offer onsite medical detox to safely get you through meth withdrawal in a private, calming atmosphere with 24-hour medical care and support.

Our residential treatment center is an intimate setting that allows you to work through the roots of addiction with evidence-based treatments and a personalized treatment plan. At the same time, allowing your body to regain strength and health with healthy, chef-catered meals and amenities like our pool and hot tub area that help you relax and exercise, surrounded by the beauty of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

Reach out to our treatment specialists with any questions and to learn more about your treatment options. The path to a meaningful life in recovery is just a phone call away.

Find Meaningful Recovery

Our caring and compassionate specialists are eager to help you comfortably navigate this journey to recovery. Our individualized treatment plan, programs, and therapies may be a perfect match for you or your loved one. Let us assist you in living the happy life you deserve. It starts with a phone call.

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