Pubdate: Mon, 08 Aug 2005
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Maggie Shepard, Scripps Howard News Service
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Use Of Drug Can Lead To Rapid Decay For Youth

Teeth are covered in enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. 
They're supposed to last. At their best, they should be white or ivory 
colored. At their worst, maybe dingy yellow.

They're not supposed to be leathery nubs the color of rotten bananas and coal.

Yet dentists throughout the nation are more frequently encountering 
patients with such teeth.

They call the condition "meth mouth" - a rapid decay of the teeth common 
among methamphetamine users.

And when they find it, they often call Charles Tatlock a dental instructor 
and researcher at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in 
Albuquerque, N.M., to find out more about the condition and how to treat it.

Tatlock and fellow dentist Stephen Wagner took interest in meth mouth about 
six years ago when they began seeing odd cavities along the gumlines of 
otherwise healthy and young patients. The patients admitted to 
methamphetamine use.

The dentists' concern led them to organize the nation's first study on meth 

With plans to study the mouths of 20 current or past methamphetamine users, 
Tatlock and Wagner hope to document the progression of the condition and 
pinpoint other lifestyle factors, such as poor dental hygiene, that 
contribute to the decay.

Their results will be shared with other dentists and in college and high 
school classrooms.

"We don't want to be gory or shock, but they need to know, if meth is doing 
this to your teeth, imagine what it is doing to the rest of your body," 
Tatlock said.

Wagner is paying the study participants $5 apiece from his own pocket, 
though the study has been approved by the university's Human Research 
Review Committee.

Patients are coming mostly from dental clinics and drug rehab centers in 
the city, Tatlock said. The patients so far are in the beginning stages of 
meth mouth.

In its typical pattern, little black spots of decay appear along the 
gumlines. The spots grow, sucking the life from the entire tooth until it 
becomes too brittle to withstand pressure or touch, Tatlock said. Sometimes 
the affected tooth shatters all the way to its base.

The spots can hit meth users after just six months of use. Within a year, 
dentures might be the only option, Tatlock said.

"The meth is so toxic. It's like you've had a beaver go around a tree and 
it just breaks off," he said.

Recipes for meth vary, but they usually include red phosphorous from 
matchbooks, pseudoephedrine from cold medicine, iodine, camping stove fuel, 
various acids, anhydrous ammonia - a common fertilizer - and other ingredients.

The drug can be smoked, snorted or injected. Tatlock says each method 
affects the body, but smoking and snorting give the drug more contact with 

After the teeth break off, the remaining bits are so pliable they can be 
scooped out with a little spoon, Tatlock said.
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