Dental Professionals Role in Early Intervention of Methamphetamine Addiction

By Noel Brandon Kelsch, RDH


You never know just who you might get to sit next to on a plane and what you might learn. This past flight for me was a great learning experience.

I had a dental professional sit next to me and she soon discovered I was working on my slides for a course on the impact of meth.  She told me she has never seen anyone with a methamphetamine addiction and that she is sure of it. She saw no reason to attend a lecture about meth because none of her patients would EVER consider doing anything like that, they were educated, well informed professionals in general. She lived in a suburb where things like that just did not happen. “That happens in rural areas and big cities.” She said. She also explained to me that seizure rates had been cut in half in her state and that the war on drugs was well on the way to being resolved there.

Meth does not care where you went to school. Nor does it care what your profession is, how much money you make or what area you live in. The crisis this drug creates impacts all age and economic levels of our society, including adult professionals, teenagers and children. Because most people don’t believe someone they know could be using or don’t realize that this drug is available and abused by people at all levels of our society regardless of income or ethnic background, it sometimes interferes with diagnosis.

The seizure of meth labs across the country has gone down. That is exciting! The problem is that because of new systems of manufacturing it no longer requires a complete lab to create meth. For example the “shake and bake” method uses a liter soda bottle and has increasing emergency room visits as this very explosive process comes into play. Successes are happening with a decline in use in some areas, but the war is not over. Early intervention plays a major role.

All dental professionals have a role that is vital in early intervention because the first signs of meth use appear in the mouth. This non-pre-judicial drug is enormously addictive and eventually rots the teeth down to the gum line.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2012 age 12 and older 4.6 percent have used meth sometime in their life. That means for every 100 people that sit in your dental chair 4.6 percent of them have used meth sometime in their life. It is so vital to have that information before you treat them.

Early warning signs and symptoms exhibited by people using methamphamine:

•   Obvious deterioration of teeth

•   Malnourished and disheveled appearance

•   Abnormal vital signs

•   Grinding of teeth

•   Pale complexion and red eyes

•   Aging in appearance

•   Irritability or euphoria

•   Nervousness; sweaty and clammy skin

Dental professionals play a role in early intervention by connecting patients to the resources they need for drug rehabilitation, treatment and recovery. With greater awareness, the odds for early intervention and positive outcomes increase.



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