Understanding chemical dependency and oral health | Recovery Dentist
September 16, 2016

Chemical dependency is highly correlated with extended periods of poor nutrition, lapses in oral hygiene, infrequent dental care, and increased incidence of dental cavities, gum disease, and untreated cracked, broken and infected teeth. In addition to the pain, impaired health, limited chewing function, and fear common to patients returning to the dentist after dental deterioration has occurred, it is very common for these dependency affected patients to be socially embarrassed about the appearance of their smile and highly tentative about being judged by clinicians.

Compassionate, well-informed dentists who are knowledgeable about these special patients can help restore their quality of life and health.

In addition to being observant for medical emergencies that may arise due to the patient’s health and drug reactions, there are numerous considerations that go into treating these patients.

Chemical Dependency & Diet:

Diets high in sugar or acids can lead to a significant increase in cavities. Generally speaking, those that are “still using” are not typically concerned with consuming healthy food selections. Pre-prepared foods, fast foods, and starchy or sugary snacks are tough on our oral health. Most notably, sodas, sports drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages, are the perfect storm of sugars and acids.

Alcohol, as well as many abused prescription and illegal substances, act as diuretics. Diuretics act as dehydrating substances for the body, and can cause there to be a change in the amount and content of saliva. Saliva has many protective enzymes and lubricating substances within it to naturally protect the mouth.

The patient should be counseled about diet, oral hygiene, and dehydrating properties of abusive substances, and provided access to oral hygiene products that aid in the remineralization of tooth enamel.

Chemical Dependency & Dental Hygiene:

Prior to taking steps toward sobriety, many of the finer details of proper self-care can lapse. One of the daily routines that are often forgotten is regular and adequate brushing and dental flossing. Improper oral hygiene can lead to the accumulation of food particles and debris. This build up over time can cause cavities as well as gingivitis (inflammation and infection of the gums).

In addition to resumption of regular home care that includes brushing and flossing, the patient will need to resume regular visits to the dentist for professional teeth cleaning, with special attention to restoring the health of the periodontal tissue (gums).

The patient will need a comprehensive examination by the dentist to determine a complete picture of the patient’s oral health circumstances and what dental treatments will be required before the patient is out of the disease elimination phase and into the preventive management phase, where home care efforts like flossing, brushing and rinsing have the desired effect of keeping the mouth healthy.

Visits to the Dentist:

Let’s be real; going to the dentist does not top the list of favorite places to be. Even when one is sober, it is easy for regular Boynton Beach dentist visit to fall off the to-do list. It is not a stretch, then, to assume that preventive dental visits may not happen for those unstable in their sobriety.

It is in routine preventative dental visits where we help our patients maintain proper dental health and diagnose potential dental problems. These can begin after the patient’s emergency dental needs have been met and the patient has received treatments to stop active disease such as tooth decay and gum disease. For patients recovering from dental neglect, this sometimes takes a period of months to a year of frequent visits. Once preventative care begins, the patient may only need twice yearly teeth cleanings and examination by the dentist.

Often, smaller preventable dental problems lead to bigger, more involved and painful issues. Recovering addicts who have had lapses in oral hygiene and dental visits are very conscious of their oral health circumstances, embarrassed about the extent to which problems have grown, and at the same time very desirous of achieving a healthy mouth and confident smile. The informed, caring dental team can ease the tentative patient into a comfortable frame of mind for pursuing her or his oral health and cosmetic objectives.

For information about Dr. Jamie J. Alexander and his private practice specializing in dental care for those affected by chemical dependency, please give us a call at (561) 732-8877


Dr. Jamie Alexander

Dr. Alexander is committed to providing the best health and dental care available within a warm, welcoming, and safe environment. Our goal at Recovery Dentistry is to build long-term relationships with our patients and provide services that are customized and appropriate for each individual. No matter your current state of dental health or feelings about your teeth, we are experts at helping move patients down the path to complete comfort and optimal dental health, function and esthetics.