Get Clean & Love Your Teeth

Drug addicts with poor dental health learn better habits when sobering up in treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Drug addicts may neglect brushing, flossing and dentist visits more than the average person. But with poor eating habits, addicts need to take extra care of their teeth and gums.

A recent study surveyed a group of drug addicts in a treatment facility about how they took care of their teeth. Researchers found that about half of the addicts had been brushing their teeth every day. However, the longer a person had been addicted to drugs, the less care they took of their teeth.

The authors recommended drug treatment programs take the chance during treatment to educate and promote proper oral health habits among the addicted.

"Brush, floss and visit the dentist regularly."

Hajar Shekarchizadeh, PhD candidate, from the Community Oral Health Department at Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran and the Institute of Dentistry at the University of Helsinki in Finland, led an investigation into the oral health of people in treatment for drug addiction.

Poor health of teeth and gums can occur in drug addicts due to irregular eating habits, poor nutrition, infrequent dentist visits and the tendency to eat sugary foods. Researchers set out to find out exactly how a group of treatment-seeking drug addicts in a detoxification, or drug withdrawal facility, had taken care of their teeth through years of drug use.

For the study, 685 patients in a drug withdrawal facility in 2011 were interviewed about their drug addiction history and oral health habits. Most of the patients had been addicted to opium (65 percent) or heroin (27 percent).

A total of 48 percent of patients reported brushing their teeth less than once per day. More than 90 percent of patients said they used toothpaste with fluoride always, or almost always, when brushing their teeth. And 81 percent of patients admitted they flossed their teeth rarely or never.

Most of the patients (85 percent) were current cigarette smokers, and 57 percent said they ate sugary foods such as candy at least twice per day, if not more. Only 25 percent said they had not been to a dentist in over two years, if ever, while 57 percent had seen a dentist within the past year.

The researchers found poor oral health habits were more common among men who started using drugs at a younger age, and had a longer history of drug usage. Lower education and heroin use in particular were also common factors in poor oral hygiene.

The authors recommended including oral health education and preventive care programs during the drug addiction treatment and recovery process. They added that additional focus should be paid to higher risk groups like long-term drug users and those with less education.

This study was published in January in BMC Oral Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 10, 2013
Last Updated:
February 12, 2013