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Meth Mouth: The Return

It was June of 2005 when Jen commented upon one of my entries here and made reference to a meth mouth article at the NY Times; I had seen the same article, and promised to deal with the matter in a future post. One and a half years have gone by and still no meth mouth entry ... until now.

I. Meta

First she brought it to my attention:

weevils, inc. (posted at 09:37:51 on 2005-06-11)
steven, needless to say i'm disappointed in the fact that you have thus far not felt the “meth mouth” phenomenon worthy of comment on your site. i am providing you a link here with which you may ameliorate the situation:


just kidding. who am i to dictate site content? hee! but really - some people might want to know...

I replied. I patted myself on the back. I hinted at a possibility ... one that never emerged. A Promise!—but no payoff:

Steve Krause (posted at 11:50:09 on 2005-06-11)
As for the meth-mouth story—I saw that on the NYTimes and actually considered linking to it.

Great minds think alike!

Now, however, I will have to consider finding a way to use it in the future ... and I think I know how.

She replied. The comment has to deal with some mice we captured under a feeder in our corral and then raised for a while. Just more pets when I was young:

weevils, inc. (posted at 08:58:39 on 2005-06-12)
heh heh. still waiting for meth-mouth (meth-mouse?) to turn up here...
so... what did happen to the mouse family? or do i perhaps not want to know?

The fate of the mice is revealed, and yet still neither a meth-mouth or meth-mouse story:

Steve Krause (posted at 23:23:03 on 2005-06-14)
The mice ... they were let go. The rest was up to the speed of the mice and the tenacity of the cats. A contest of epic proportions. Life and death, some might say. But it was two decades ago. Many many mice generations.

Meth-mouth ... will wait a while, but will not be forgotten.

It is now 2007, and the time for meth-mouth has come ...

II. Coverage

Methmouth, from the NY Times
Stephen Wagner, Photo

Monica Davey's article from June 11, 2005, is entitled “Grisly Effect of One Drug: ‘Meth Mouth’” and begins not with statistics but with the tale of one dentist's encounter with the enemy: “From the moment on Thursday when the young man sat down in Dr. Richard Stein's dental chair in southwestern Kansas and opened his mouth, Dr. Stein was certain he recognized the enemy. This had to be the work, he concluded, of methamphetamine, a drug that is leaving its mark, especially in the rural regions of the Midwest and the South, on families, crime rates, economies, legislatures—and teeth.”

Notice: and teeth.

The article continues for a while with these anecdotes, about too few doctors in many regions, tales of “teeth [that] had been transformed into ‘little black stubs’ too painful to brush” and the like.

One Dr. Shaner of the Creighton University Medical Center School of Dentistry summarized a few potential causes (combinations of factors) for meth mouth:

The article states that others believe the chemicals (and application thereof) in meth have an effect, and others say that teeth grinding contributes to the damage.

The third interesting tidbit (after the dentistry angle and the potential causes) is that it is becoming a major problem in prisons. The high number of meth users behind bars combined with bad teeth leads to high medical expenses for the corrections system.

Methmouth, from MAPP-SD

The METH Awareness and Prevention Project of South Dakota (MAPP-SD ... yeah, that's easy to remember) devotes a page to meth mouth: “Dental problems are common among drug users. Many do not take care of their teeth on a regular basis and most do not see a dentist often.” A gallery of meth mouth related damage is provided.

Dr. Dan Peterson's Family Gentle Dental Care clinic also has a page on meth mouth and similar problems. “One of the hallmarks of chronic drug abuse to see some real big teeth problems. It can be described as blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling or falling apart teeth. Often, the teeth cannot be saved and must be extracted.” The page continues with a scare tactic by describing the toxic ingredients used to produce meth (“The primary compound is anhydrous ammonia, and it includes some very corrosive substances, like red phosphorus, lithium from batteries, and muriatic acid”).

A few months after the NY Times article, however, Slate ran their own article by Jack Shafer entitled “The Meth-Mouth Myth, our latest moral panic.” As Shafer states in the third paragraph:

For the last year, a moral panic about methamphetamine and its users has been gathering force, and last week it peaked as Slate's corporate sibling, Newsweek magazine, joined the crusade with a cover story. Calling methamphetamine “America's Most Dangerous Drug,” the magazine also portrayed its use as “epidemic.” In typical moral-panic fashion, Newsweek offered no data to anoint meth as the deadliest of drugs, nor did it prove its assertion that meth use is spreading like a prairie fire. Instead, the magazine relied almost exclusively on anecdotes from law enforcement officials, anti-drug politicians, and users (current and reformed) to stir up emotions against meth and meth-heads.

Shafer moves on to meth mouth, particularly the image of “the meth mouth”—and suddenly we are thrust back to a world (our own!?) in which good and bad are mapped onto beauty and ugliness. We realize our moral panic through images of the ugly and grotesque. Strung out junkies, meth mouth, fat white trash in stretch-pants, and so on.

Again we mistake grossness for badness. Remember, disgust is literally distate, from desgouster—for centuries we have mapped the moral on to matters of taste and use taste as a weapon in the war of class and morality.

That having been said, meth mouth is gross, disgusting, and not something I would want to happen to my teeth, my gums.

Back to the Shafer article: it debunks the caustic-ingredient scare tactic used in other articles and webpages. It likewise tackles the prison population dental problem (“In other words, abstinent grandmothers and grandfathers, many of whom who couldn't spell methamphetamine if their lives depended on it, are sometimes victims of meth mouth!”)

In short: forget the meth, forget the moral panic, but do care about dental care, especially in rural areas. That public health point is what should worry us: “the poor dental and oral health of rural, ethnic, and disabled Americans has not improved since a surgeon general called attention to it in 2000.”

III. Mice-llaneous

Shafer had no meth mouth photos. I didn't let that stop me!

I must not be the only one to suspect that those with a lisp might very well pronounce “mouse” as mouth, which—quite naturally—brings us to the infamous(e) meth mouse.

Via SpringerLink, for example, I found an article that provides “Measurement of acute and chronic behavioural effects of methamphetamine in the mouse.”

The abstract states: “simple and reliable method was developed for rating the dose-related behavioural effects of methamphetamine in male Swiss Albino mice for acute or chronic drug treatment.”

Swiss mice. Christoph is Swiss. Coincidence? I think not.

Maria S. Quinton and Bryan K. Yamamoto's “Causes and Consequences of Methamphetamine and MDMA Toxicity” provides multiple references in the scientific literature to meth and mice (e.g. Gluck MR, Moy LY, Jayatilleke E, Hogan KA, Manzino L, Sonsalla PK. “Parallel increases in lipid and protein oxidative markers in several mouse brain regions after methamphetamine treatment.” J Neurochem. 2001;79:152-160.).

Alas one finds no photos of mice on meth ... the search continues.

—February 1 2007