3 August 2009

South Africa: Dentists Face Tik Toothache

Drug-induced teeth grinding, a craving for sweets and the dry mouth caused by tik abuse could lead to a generation of drug users losing their teeth and becoming a burden on state oral health care.

Dentists and drug counseling centres report that the rampant abuse of methamphetamine (more commonly known as tik) on the Cape Flats has already seen an increase of tik addicts needing dental treatment.

The extent of the problem - known as 'meth mouth' - is not yet known locally due to a lack of research, but in 2006 the American Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) in the US advised that dental professionals in that country should learn about the severe oral health implications methamphetamine and other drugs was having on addicts.

According to the AGD, methamphetamine was identified as one of the most destructive substances for teeth due to teeth grinding, sweet eating and lack of saliva.

Users would develop a large number of cracks on the teeth, be prone to cavities and eventually need dentures.

Professor Sudeshni Naidoo, from the community oral health department at the University of the Western Cape's faculty of dentistry, said 'meth mouth' was "very concerning" as the abuse of the drug was increasing in the Western Cape.

Naidoo said a generation of people could end up losing their teeth, placing a burden on the state.

She said cases only presented when users needed to have their teeth urgently removed to alleviate severe toothache. Advice for follow-up visits were often ignored.

The drug affected the production of saliva, which was critical for the health of the mouth and teeth and ultimately meant that the teeth of chronic users had to be extracted due to severe decay and the erosion of enamel caused by the process of grinding and clenching teeth.

South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (Sanca) social worker Nicolette Kwalie said clients often complained about their teeth. There were usually about three clients per month who would mention they had dental appointments.

She said a common complaint was about an increase in toothache in their back teeth, which either needed to be filled or removed.

"Users of the drug also noted that their teeth were slowly breaking off or were brittle and even rehabilitated users were not spared as they also experienced this after quitting."

Mitchell's Plain community health care centre oral hygienist Heidi Gertse said the center dealt with between two to three clients per month of users who needed their teeth extracted. Teeth were usually so eroded and rotten that teeth could not be saved.

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