Meth mouth: not ‘toxins’, just good ol’ tooth decay

As a long-time fan of media critic Jack Shafer, I remember well his diatribes against the myth that ‘meth mouth’ (the tooth decay that afflicts long-time methamphetamine abusers) is caused by the chemistry of methamphetamine or any contaminants from the preparation. The causes (dry mouth and lack of dental care) has been discussed in the peer-reviewed literature.

So I was surprised to see it in the middle of a really interesting article on underground chemistry by Discover Magazine:

In attempting to synthesize crystal meth, these do-it-yourselfers have caused a rash of trailer park explosions and often unwittingly produce a drug coated with toxins like hydroiodic acid. The best way to remove those noxious byproducts is by washing the drug in alcohol using a Büchner funnel, a specialized lab vacuum. But most kitchen chemists have never even heard of it. When this final purification step is skipped, the toxins eat away at the user’s gums, teeth, and inner lining of the cheeks, resulting in a toothless, hollowed-out condition known as “meth mouth.”

No, no, no. What causes ‘meth mouth’? Is it toxins? Is it uneluted hydroiodic acid? Well, let’s look at the American Dental Association page that it links:

The extensive tooth decay is probably caused by a combination of drug-induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in dry mouth and long periods of poor oral hygiene. A methamphetamine “high” lasts much longer than that produced by crack cocaine (12 hours versus one hour for cocaine). This can lead to long periods of poor oral hygiene. And while they are high, users often crave high-calorie, carbonated, sugary beverages or they may grind or clench their teeth, all of which can harm teeth.

So, there we have it. There’s no reason to blame hydroiodic acid (or the solvents, or “toxins” or acids in the process) when it comes to ‘meth mouth’; it’s just advanced tooth decay.


  1. It seems logical. A great example of correlation does not equal causation.

  2. Every day, when I wake up, the sun rises over the horizon. Now, I’m not too sure, but I posit that if I didn’t wake up, the sun might never come up again!

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