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The Correlation between Substance Abuse and Poor Oral Health

Those individuals with a history of substance abuse issues are not generally among those thought to be in optimal physical or mental health. Substance abuse is a mental and physical disease, showing a difficulty in maintaining or practicing healthy, life-enhancing habits. However, many do not include oral health in their concerns over the health of those with substance abuse issues, or of those who are in drug treatment. Recent studies focusing on the overall health of those with addiction problems and those utilizing addiction therapy treatments showed an elevated risk factor for poor to fair oral health.

While oral health is obviously an important contributing factor to a person’s overall health, many do not realize the serious risks that can go along with many oral health problems. Potentially fatal, life-altering problems that have been proven to be related to serious oral health issues include heart disease, pneumonia, pancreatic cancer, and even preterm labor in pregnant women. There are proven connections between these diseases and poor oral health, but what is most surprising is the causal relationship usually shows that a decrease in oral health is often among the contributing factors to developing these diseases. For example, in the case of patients with pneumonia and poor oral health, unhealthy bacteria often travels from the mouth to the lungs, infecting otherwise healthy organs and leading to disease. In cases where a patient is diagnosed with heart disease, further investigation of the atherosclerotic blood vessels often shows the presence of periodontal bacteria, not normally found in the blood vessels of a person without heart disease.

The link that has been untapped prior to now is the connection between substance abuse, those in addiction therapy or drug treatment, and poor oral health and hygiene. Recently, studies were conducted to analyze the association between drug and alcohol abuse and levels of oral health. In one particular study, 563 people who admitted to being substance-dependent were asked to rate their oral health on a five-point scale ranging from poor to excellent. Researchers were aiming to study the effects of alcohol, stimulants, opioids, and marijuana use on the oral health of the individuals in this particular group of substance abusers. Of those in the group studied, 60% rated their oral health to be between poor and fair condition. Surprisingly, it was found that the individuals seeking addiction therapy or drug treatment for opioid abuse reported significantly worse oral health than the other individuals in the study.

In addition to drug abuse, alcohol addiction is also an indicator for poor oral health. Because of the sugars found in both the alcohol itself, as well as the mixers used to make beverages, such as soda or juice, those with alcohol addiction are exposing their teeth to harmful substances on a more regular basis than most individuals who have sporadic exposure to these substances.

Part of the reason that many individuals seeking drug treatment or addiction therapy find themselves with poor oral health may be due to the effect that the substances they ingest have on their bodies and mental states. For instance, addiction to cigarettes and nicotine is extremely common among substance abusers, and smoking cigarettes or using other forms of tobacco is highly notorious for leading to poor oral health, gum disease, and a variety of other problems affecting the mouth. The mental effects of most drugs, including alcohol, leave the user in a state of mind in which taking care of their hygiene, both physical and oral, is not a major concern. Within abuse cycles, it may be common for days, or even weeks, to pass between showers or teeth brushing incidences. This can lead to a buildup of tooth decay and extreme cases of enamel erosion. In addition to poor oral hygiene, many substance abusers may not have the mental focus or resources to seek proper dental care; meaning checkups, cleanings, and care for already damaged teeth are relatively unheard of. Unfortunately, by the time many people with substance abuse issues actually seek help for their dental care, their oral health is so deeply damaged that often there is nothing more a dental practitioner can do but remove the infected teeth. Generally, people in these types of situations will not have the financial resources available to attain dentures, so they may remain without teeth, which affects their ability to maintain proper nutrition. Clearly, poor oral health and hygiene can have detrimental effects.

The caring staff at Vista Taos Renewal Center in Taos, New Mexico is specially trained to help those with addiction and substance abuse issues. With the goal of overall health in mind, Vista Taos employs many varieties of programs to assist in developing better mental and physical health. Contact Vista Taos today to learn about the different programs available to help you or your loved one with substance abuse and addiction issues.

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COVID-19 update: The health and safety of our clients at Vista Taos is our top priority. Each person admitted to our program will be given a PCR Covid screen upon entry and subsequently will follow our isolation protocol as we await the results.
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