Illegal Drug Use – How It Affects Your Oral Health

Illegal Drug Use – How It Affects Your Oral Health

‘Street drugs’ are known to cause many health issues, but did you know that they can also be harmful to your teeth and gums?

Firstly, we want to say that, as oral health professionals, we certainly do not condone illegal drug use!

Even some regulated medical drugs can have a negative effect on your teeth and gums, but those that are unregulated and can be variable in potency, are particularly dangerous for both your general health and your oral health.

A study, carried out earlier this year showed, amongst other things, that around 8.5% of adults between the ages of 16-59 in England and Wales had taken an illegal drug within the last year. Whilst this figure may include a number who do so very irregularly or maybe even just the once, it does indicate a higher number of drug users than many of us may like to believe. There are, of course, a number of arguments as to the best approach to take to reduce this usage, but in the meantime, health professionals and users families have to deal with the consequences.

We obviously encourage our Bedford patients not to risk their teeth and gums by using illegal substances and to help indicate the serious health risks involved, below we take a look at some of the risks of some of the more common substances.

Cannabis (Marijuana)

Perhaps one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the UK. It is sometimes considered to be non addictive and relatively harmless by some users. Although not strictly ‘addictive’, dependency is common and long term heavy usage has been widely linked to psychosis issues. From an oral health angle, cannabis is usually smoked, often combined with tobacco. This will often lead to a very dry mouth, with the associated heightened risk of gum disease. Studies have indicated that heavy cannabis smokers are around 60% more likely to have gum disease than those who don’t.


Another ‘popular’ UK drug, with, it is widely believed,  a predominantly middle class user base. This is often seen as a ‘recreational’ drug that provides energy and enthusiasm and is most likely to be used when taking part in something, rather than whilst relaxing at home. Whilst it has sometimes been referred to as the ‘champagne drug’, it can have a significant impact on your teeth and gums. Taken orally, cocaine mixes with the saliva in our mouths. This forms an acidic substance that can cause significant erosion of the teeth and can even damage other dental restorations. As it is sometimes rubbed on the gums to help its absorption, it can also cause damage to the bone which holds teeth in place.

Finally, the ‘high’ it produces can cause the user to indulge in nervous habits such as teeth grinding, causing damage to the teeth that will almost certainly need significant restoration once the user stops.


Formerly classed as a ‘legal high’, this drug and many others have now entered the illegal category. Many of us will have seen the results of this drug on users as we walk through the town centre, as users seemingly enter an altered state of reality. Dehydration and depression are two additional side effects of using this drug. As mentioned before, dehydration increases the risk of gum disease, potentially leading to tooth loss. Even relatively mild depression can cause self-neglect and this is likely to include whether we brush our teeth or not.


Although probably less popular than during the heyday of the rave scene, it is still a relatively commonly used drug. Producing what is considered by some to be a pleasant high; like cocaine it can cause the user to grind their teeth or clench their jaws, often having a devastating effect on their teeth. Perhaps the most commonly known side effect though, is a feeling of dehydration and a very dry mouth. Unlike where this happens in ‘normal life’ when we can quickly change it by drinking water, the dehydration caused by ecstasy use can last for up to two days. It is no surprise then, that gum disease can result from regular use of this drug.


The regular use of heroin will almost certainly lead to a number of serious dental problems and the lifestyle often associated with the use of this drug means that poor oral hygiene is common. Tooth grinding, decay, oral infections and gum disease are all very possible if you use heroin. Additionally, cravings for sweet foods will also speed up the tooth decay process, especially as regular cleaning falls by the wayside.

Although some are not so fortunate; for many users, the the taking of illegal drugs is temporary and often at a particular time in their life. Nevertheless, serious harm may have already taken place before they manage to stop. Although we don’t condone illegal drug use, if this has affected you and once you are free from the habit, you may wish to see what The Dental Centre Bedford can do to help you restore your oral health. We will not judge you, and will do all that we can to get you back to a healthier lifestyle, including advice on how to care for your teeth going forwards.

If you need to see a dentist to discuss restoring your teeth and oral health in general, you can call our Bedford practice to arrange an appointment on 01234 819868.

Dr Sarah Nackasha – GDC 74960