Mouth ulcers can happen as one side effect of using meth. Treatment can help, but these sores may also begin to heal when you stop taking meth.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is a powerful stimulant. It activates your sympathetic nervous system, speeding up your heartbeat and making you feel more energetic.
Stimulating your body like this can cause many short- and long-term effects, from a rush of euphoria to appetite loss to hallucinations.
One common side effect of meth is mouth ulcers. These open sores, which develop on soft tissues like your tonsils and gums, often hurt quite a bit. They can also make eating or talking more difficult than usual.
Below, learn why meth can cause mouth ulcers and how to treat these sores.
Meth-induced mouth ulcers may resemble other types of mouth ulcers.
Ulcers, by definition, only occur inside your mouth. They typically appear:
- in the inner lining of your cheeks and lips
- on the floor of your mouth under your tongue
- on your gums and tongue
Rarely, they may appear on the roof of your mouth.
Mouth ulcers often begin as white or yellow bumps, then collapse
Most mouth ulcers are
Mouth ulcers of any size can be fairly painful. Even a day or two before you notice the sore, you might feel a stinging or burning sensation whenever your teeth or tongue brush against the ulcer. This can cause issues with eating, drinking, and talking.
Are they contagious?
Mouth ulcers are usually not contagious. However, bacteria, viruses, or fungi in your sores can
If you share your pipe with someone who regularly uses meth, their immune system might already be vulnerable to infection from these microscopic guests.
Meth use can lead to mouth ulcers in a few different ways.
Whether you smoke, snort, or inject meth, the drug will rev up your sympathetic nervous system. This tells your body it’s fight or flight time, not feeding time. Your body recognizes that you likely won’t eat anytime soon, and your salivary glands stop producing as much saliva, which leads to dry mouth.
Saliva doesn’t just help keep your mouth moist. It also protects your tissues by neutralizing acidic substances. With dry mouth, there’s nothing to stop the acids in everyday foods and beverages from damaging your mouth. If you smoke meth, the acidic chemicals in the drug can also create ulcers.
What’s more, meth can
When your sympathetic nervous system is active, your body has fewer resources for its immune system. As such, chronic meth use can weaken your mouth’s defenses against disease.
Oral thrush is one common infection you might develop when using meth. This infection happens when a yeast called Candida albicans sets up shop in your mouth, leaving sores and fuzzy white patches on your tongue and cheeks.
When you smoke meth, you inhale hot chemical vapors directly into your mouth. This heat can easily burn the sensitive tissues in your mouth and leave behind sores. A still-hot pipe can also burn ulcers into your mouth, especially around the lip area.
When using meth, you might notice you tend to grind your teeth and move your tongue around more than you usually would. You may also accidentally chew the lining of your cheeks raw and cause an ulcer that way.
And since meth use can constrict the blood vessels in your mouth, this damage may take much longer to heal.
Ulcers may heal differently depending on what caused them:
- Small sores from burns, friction, or dry mouth may heal on their own within
10 to 14 days.
- Large sores can last up to
6 weeksand may require medical treatment.
- Sores caused by oral thrush usually heal after
1 to 2 weeksof treatment with antifungal medication. Untreated ulcers may take longer to disappear.
However, regular meth use can slow down the healing process, not to mention cause additional ulcers that replace the ones that heal. The only surefire way to get rid of meth-related mouth ulcers is to stop using meth.
Easing your dry mouth symptoms can do a lot to prevent further ulcers — and you may notice improvement in your mouth shortly after you stop using the drug.
For example, a small
When treating mouth sores, your doctor may recommend some or all of the following medications:
- Topical anesthetics: You can buy over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like benzocaine (Orajel). They come in gels or sprays you put directly on the ulcer to numb the pain.
- Topical steroids: If anesthetics don’t make much difference, you can also use steroid tablets or pastes. These medications may help reduce inflammation and soreness around the ulcer.
- Antimicrobial rinse: Rinses can help fight off potential infection. You can buy some products over the counter, while others need a prescription.
- Oral moisturizers: If dry mouth causes your ulcers, you can use artificial saliva to temporarily supplement your own spit. You can buy these over the counter too.
- Saliva stimulators: The prescription drug pilocarpine (Salagen) can stimulate your saliva glands so you secrete more spit. For meth-induced dry mouth, you may need to take tablets
2 to 6 timesa day. The healthcare professional who prescribes the medication will give you specific directions to follow.
Severe ulcers may require more
Outside of medical treatment, there are a few things you can try at home to help your ulcers heal:
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks. They can agitate the ulcers.
- Drink plenty of water each day so you have enough hydration to produce spit.
- Rinse your mouth with a saltwater rinse. You can make this at home or buy a saline solution at the pharmacy.
- Apply a wet bag of chamomile tea as a compress on your sore. Leave it on the sore for a few minutes to help reduce inflammation.
The doctor or dentist who treats your mouth ulcers will likely encourage you to stop using meth.
If you’d like to stop using meth, you don’t have to do it alone. Options for professional support and treatment include:
- Medically managed treatment: During meth withdrawal, issues like dry mouth or teeth grinding may get temporarily worse. During this treatment, sometimes called detoxification or “detox,” medical professionals can monitor your symptoms and help you manage withdrawal.
- Therapy: If you live with depression or other mental health conditions, behavioral therapy can help you address these symptoms along with meth use.
- Support groups: Support groups provide the opportunity to meet with other people who are quitting meth, or have already quit meth, and share advice.
- Inpatient treatment: Inpatient rehabilitation, or rehab, may involve staying at a treatment center for several days. Your care program will likely include a mix of withdrawal treatment, therapy, and support groups.
Need help finding support? You can find local support for meth use disorder by using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s behavioral health treatment locator.
Meth use can decrease your saliva output, lower your immune system defenses, and cause direct damage to your mouth. Any of these issues can create painful mouth ulcers that make it hard to swallow or talk.
Medications can help these ulcers heal, but the best way to keep mouth ulcers from coming back is to stop using meth.
Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.