'Meth Mouth' Strains Prison Health-Care Budgets

Dr. Chris Heringlake

hide captionDr. Chris Heringlake, a dentist at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility in Minnesota, first saw "meth mouth" eight years ago. His dental colleagues on the outside couldn't imagine what he was describing. Now the dentist works on meth mouths every day.

Laura Sullivan, NPR
A photo from Dr. Heringlake's collection of "meth mouth" patients.

hide captionA photo from Dr. Heringlake's collection of "meth mouth" patients.

Courtesy Dr. Chris Heringlake

In just a few years, the use of the drug methamphetamine has spread to all corners of the country, from rural farm towns, to suburbs and now to inner cities. Costs for cracking down on meth abuse are straining small-town law enforcement — and taking their toll on state prisons, too.

Meth is made from hydrochloric acid. When users smoke meth, the acid in the drug erodes their tooth enamel. The drug also leaves users dehydrated and craving sweets. Add up a loss of tooth enamel, a constant sweet tooth and a disregard for brushing, and you end up with teeth that are little more than little black stubs — a condition known as "meth mouth."

As more and more meth abusers end up behind bars, prisons are having to devote a growing portion of their health-care budgets to emergency dental care. The problem is costing prisons and taxpayers a fortune.

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