The term heroin teeth is used to describe the physical appearance of a person’s teeth as a result of their long-term use of heroin.
The condition is characterized by blackened, decaying, and/or missing teeth, which is often the result of neglect, malnutrition and poor oral hygiene during ongoing heroin use.
Heroin can cause several issues in oral health which will be discussed below. Having “heroin teeth” is a telltale sign of long-term heroin use. It is often associated with negative health effects. Learn more here.
What Do ‘Heroin Teeth’ Look Like?
Heroin teeth typically appear blackened, decaying and missing. Other signs of the problem include the following:
- Stained or yellowed teeth
- Cracked or chipped teeth
- Decay along the gum line
- Loose or missing teeth
- Abscesses or sores in the mouth
- A buildup of plaque and tartar
- Bad odors in the mouth
In addition to the poor oral hygiene habits and the wear and tear caused by exposure to heroin, heroin can also cause dry mouth and gum disease. 
Many people who use heroin also smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Regular exposure to smoke can worsen dry mouth and exacerbate the other oral hygiene problems that go hand in hand with heroin use.
As much as heroin teeth are a problem, their presence usually indicates more serious underlying health issues that should be addressed by a dental and/or medical professional.
How Does Heroin Start to Decay Your Dental Health?
Heroin use can cause dental problems through a combination of physiological and behavioral factors, including:
- Decreased saliva production: Heroin use can lead to dehydration and decreased saliva production, which can result in a dry mouth. Saliva helps to neutralize the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. With decreased saliva production, these acids accumulate, leading to tooth decay.
- Malnutrition: Heroin use can lead to decreased food intake and malnutrition. This can result in a lack of essential vitamins and minerals needed for good dental health, such as calcium and vitamin D. A diet that is deficient in these nutrients can result in weakened teeth and gums, increasing the risk of decay and gum disease.
- Neglect: People who use heroin may neglect their dental hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, which can result in a buildup of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Over time, this can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
- Drug use: Heroin use itself can also have direct effects on the teeth and gums. The drug can cause the user to grind and/or clench their teeth, which damages the structure of the teeth. Plus, the chemicals in the drug can erode the enamel on the teeth. Together, both of these issues lead to rapid decay.
- Poor hygiene: People who use heroin may also have poor overall hygiene, which can lead to infections and abscesses in the mouth, further worsening dental health.
Which Dental Health Issues Are Caused by Heroin?
Heroin use in any amount can cause a variety of dental issues, including:
- Dry mouth: Heroin use decreases the amount of saliva produced in the mouth, which dries out the mouth. This allows bacteria to build up, causing a multitude of problems, including halitosis.
- Tooth decay: Due to the buildup bacteria, tooth decay is a common problem that results from the dry mouth caused by regular heroin use.
- Gum damage and disease: Heroin use often leads to malnutrition due to a lack of appetite, craving for sugar and a lack of focus on healthy eating. Compounded by the presence of bacteria, vitamin depletion can weaken the gums, making them more susceptible to gum damage and disease.
- Tooth loss: People who use heroin may neglect their dental hygiene, allowing plaque and tartar to build up on the teeth, leading to tooth loss over time.
- Oral infections: Thanks to a lack of hygiene and a buildup of bacteria as well as exposure to the toxins found in heroin, it is not uncommon for people living with heroin use disorders to experience infections in their mouths. Bacteria in the gums and mouth can reach the bloodstream which can cause more serious systemic infections, sepsis, and even death.
Addressing the Underlying Opioid Use Disorder
Preventing dental complications is just one of the many reasons to seek treatment for OUD.
One of the most well-researched and effective methods for treatment of an opioid use disorder is Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT). MAT includes medications like Methadone, Suboxone and Naltrexone.
Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) is a medication FDA approved for OUD that helps to prevent withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Suboxone has repeatedly been shown to effectively manage opioid use disorder, increasing rates of retention in recovery and reducing instances of relapse.
To learn more about the medication options available to you or your loved one, call Bicycle Health today. We can help you put heroin use, and its many associated dangers, in the past.
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH
Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More
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