The Whole Tooth.

Anti-drug campaigns, recovering junkies, rehabs, counsellors and the law all provide considerable lists denouncing drug use. It’s amoral (or immoral, depending on who you speak to), illegal, expensive, unhealthy, anti-establishment, anti-social (arguments on both sides, for this one), anti-progress etc etc ad infinitum.

We could argue each point, and come up with several more, I’m sure. From my perspective, most of these are intellectual talking points. I can see the argument for both sides, pro- and anti-drug use; both having fair merit for their particular cases. But there is ONE point in the case against drug use, rarely argued, that I am becoming MOST passionate about: teeth. Yup. In fact, I’m quite mental about dental.

Since quitting drugs nearly two years ago, I’ve been waiting to see what the residual trauma of 18 years of active drug addiction would be on my body. Would I be a wizened, wide-eyed lunatic, with a sketchy, scary and tenuous grip on reality? Would I suffer paranoia, or tremors, or that especially washed-out, vacant look that so many recovering addicts end up with? Nope. None of that. Seems I emerged relatively unscathed, barring a scar from a drunken, drug-fuelled horse riding accident. And bad teeth.

I have a set of teeth more sensitive than, well, a very sensitive thing. Powerful telescopes. Sonars. Mothers of new-borns, or a scorned lover – what is an appropriate analogy to describe sensitivity? Wait – I have it! My teeth are MORE sensitive than a smoker who you’ve just told smells like dirty ashtray… (Don’t believe me? Try telling your mate who smokes, that he stinks, and watch him transform instantly into the Incredible Sulk.)

I was going to show you a pic of the dreaded 'meth mouth' - but the images on Google are too shocking to share. Google 'meth mouth', if you dare.
I was going to show you a pic of the dreaded ‘meth mouth’ – but the images on Google are too shocking to share. Google ‘meth mouth‘, if you dare. Of course, my mouth doesn’t look anywhere NEAR sensational enough to feature (thanks to my dentist!)

Drugs destroy teeth. For two reasons.

1. Your drugs are like sandpaper in your mouth.

Why do you think a serious coke head’s septum caves in after a few years’ solid cocaine use? Who knows WHAT corrosive rubbish has been cut into your cocaine, meth, cat, speed, or heroin, that you snort off whichever handy surface you regularly use? And then you rub your gums with the last of the line, to get that ‘ooohhmmmyummy-numby mouth feeling, right? If you smoke it, all that residue has to go somewhere – and your mouth is the first port of call. It sits there, on your teeth, slowly eroding the enamel and eating away towards the nerves and rotting your gums. For years, I snorted my lines off the same wooden shelf in the restaurant I used to run for my family. After only a few months, the constant daily crushing of cocaine under a credit card on that shelf ground the paint and varnish off until a clear white wood panel showed through. I obviously ended up snorting all that paint and varnish along with the dubious powder.

2. Face it: when you’re high, hygiene is not a priority.

Unless you’re a real oddball, and the drug-fuelled paranoia inspires in you the sort of madness MacBeth suffered from (not forgetting he was ACTUALLY a fictional character), the truth is, when you’re on a 3-day drug binge, personal hygiene is not really ever a focus for you. The only saving grace for those addicts who still have to go to work every day is that having a job means you have to wash up, and brush your teeth, occasionally. But more often than not, addicts will go for days without a proper mouth cleansing. Grim. Disgusting. Vile. But true.

Corrosive drugs + poor hygiene = living hell.

If you’re lucky, and you manage to kick the habit, you may well have to endure the legacy I’ve been left with, and that is a mouth full of teeth with holes. It’s a damned expensive legacy to be left with – R14,000 in the last few months, and counting, as I try and short-cut the inevitable dental work by just having fillings put in. These don’t last, and rarely work. They fall out. Rot gets in, and voila! It’s root canal time! Good luck getting a medical aid to take you on, with a mouth like that! But worse than the expense, is the pain.

Tooth ache must be right up there, as a solid percentile of child birth, in the pain-o-metre. And, as a recovering junkie, you’re not allowed many of the pain meds ‘normal’ people are. Because, you know: relapse.

The searing pain, like a hot dagger, each time you eat and don’t pay attention to which side of your mouth you should be chewing with; or when you carelessly toss back a hot coffee or cold can of Coke is only marginally worse than the constant thud in your head, for hours after your little forgetfulness. Each meal is fraught with delicate positioning of the food with your tongue, and invariably, you try and chew less, and swallow the tiny mouthfuls whole. Cue the indigestion. You learn to read textures – because even bread can hurt. Pasta al dente is off the menu. And even feta, that’s been in a too-cold fridge, holds a terrifying surprise as the icy softness drives deep into the drug-rotted chasms.

One of the things you could also be left with, after kicking the habit, is a strong craving for sugar. I don’t understand the science of it, but many of the people I know from my Narcotics Anonymous group all share my insane love of sweets and sugary drinks. And, well, all that sugar on your enamel-depleted teeth? Not a great idea, even WITH your much enhanced personal hygiene. You can’t brush away the damage that’s already there.

So. Screw the moralities for and against drug-taking. Screw the legalities and the damage to your job, your family and your mind. The ONLY reason that makes pure, logical as well as strong emotional sense, to quit that drug habit (or never start it in the first place) is your teeth. Because good teeth are great, and tooth ache saps the will to live.

Drugs are not pretty or clever, and while they may be fun, for a while, they just mess up everything. True bloody story.

© Dave Luis 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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