5 Ways Opioids Can Affect Teeth and Gums

Woman with tablets and water

Drug abuse is considered one of the most devastating health problems worldwide. In recent years, medical professionals have focused on the harmful effects of opioids, an addictive pain reliever. Long-term opioid use can cause a range of medical conditions and oral health problems. Consider five ways opioids can affect teeth and gums.

1. Tooth decay – Studies show that people addicted to opioids often stop taking care of themselves, including daily brushing and flossing their teeth, and seeing the dentist for checkups and cleanings. Neglected oral care can increase tooth decay and cause tooth loss.

2. Dry mouth – Regular use of opioids can dry out oral tissues and reduce the amount of saliva the mouth produces. Saliva naturally lubricates the mouth and keeps tissues moist. It also removes food particles stuck between teeth and along the gumline. It controls oral acids and bacteria that attack tooth surfaces and causes decay and bad breath.

3. Acid reflux – Opioid users tend to have increased amounts of acid reflux, which can damage tooth enamel and gum tissues.

4. Weakened teeth and gum tissues – Opioid users who neglect their oral health may experience several other problems, such as:

  • Bruxism – Users are more prone to grind their teeth, which can crack and break enamel and weaken the jaw.
  • Reduced blood flow to oral tissues – Blood contains oxygen that helps keep tissues healthy. Decreased blood flow to oral tissues can cause them to die and weaken tooth structures including the jaw.
  • Mouth sores and ulcers – Diminished blood flow and reduced saliva can increase the development of painful mouth sores and ulcers.

5. Masked pain – Since opioids reduce pain, people may not detect changes in their teeth and gums, such as decay and periodontal disease. Studies show that some opioid users apply the drug directly into the teeth and gums to dull dental pain. They put off seeing a dentist until experiencing significant oral health problems.

American Addiction Centers
National Institutes of Health
Dental Products Report

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