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Methamphetamine Use a Danger to Oral Health


Methamphetamine is an addictive drug that can damage brain cells. It is suspected to cause a movement disorder similar to Parkinson's disease. Meth use also can cause serious gum infections. VOA's Carol Pearson looks at the prevalence of meth use and its affect on oral health.

Federal authorities announced a methamphetamine bust valued at $50 million last month in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta, Georgia. The arrests of meth users and producers often leave members of the community stunned.

Earlier this year an Arkansas elementary school teacher was arrested and charged with making methamphetamine in a shed behind her house. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports global users of methamphetamine outnumber cocaine and heroin users combined.

Authorities are finding that even countries such as China, that used to be merely transit points for illegal drug trade, are now consumers as well.

Melvyn Levitsky of the International Narcotics Control Board explains why. "Methamphetamine is a kind of chemical crack, if you would look at it that way. (It is) very highly addictive, easy to produce, cheap."

Dentists are concerned that meth is damaging teeth and gums. Using meth can cause black decay, rotting teeth, teeth that chip easily, extreme sensitivity and teeth leveled at the gum line -- problems Karen Brown endures as a former meth user.

"It's very uncomfortable,” she says. “I can't eat anything I want to eat because the teeth are broken off and sensitivity and abscessing from the meth. There were times when I would do a little bit of meth and my jaws would just start swelling up from the infection."

Infections are a major problem according to Dr. Keith Collins of the Partnership For a Drug-Free America. "The worst thing you see is an infection that is really out of control, and people can even be infected enough that they require hospitalization."

Methamphetamine also can totally destroy the tooth structure, making removal the only solution.

Some video courtesy: American Dental Association