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Oral Piercing: The Price of Beauty

Updated on May 2, 2011

Body piercing is a popular form of self-expression these days, but it isn’t as safe as you may have been told. The American Dental Association opposes the practice of piercing the tissues in and around the mouth and you may want to research and think about some of the consequences that the local piercer may not know about…

Even if the piercing salon is reputable and the equipment is sterile, the human mouth is a warm, moist environment with a rich blood supply and home to literally millions of bacteria. A piercing site is an open wound, and the perfect place for bacteria to enter the blood stream and cause serious or life threatening infections such as septicemia. When these bacteria multiply in the blood stream and colonize in distant parts of the body such as the heart, they can cause endocarditis, a serious (and sometimes fatal) inflammation of the heart valves and tissues.

Common problems following piercing in and around the mouth include scar tissue, excessive drooling and speech problems. Oral jewelry may interfere with chewing or swallowing, and excessive sensitivity to metals such as eating utensils – and even your own fillings- is not uncommon. Jewelry that is accidentally bitten will likely fracture or chip tooth enamel or fillings, damage which is not just cosmetic- it can necessitate a root canal and crown or even an extraction. When jewelry consistently rubs against gum tissue, recession that exposes the roots and sometimes the bone can occur. Unfortunately, these effects are often permanent and require surgery to correct. In practical terms, some other undesirable effects of an oral piercing include


Complications of tongue piercing are very possible: Damage to the blood vessels in the tongue can cause serious blood loss; and the nerve can be easily punctured causing numbness, loss of taste or movement – damage that is sometimes temporary, but can also be permanent. After a piercing the tongue will swell, as you might expect- but occasionally the swelling is serious enough to block the airway.

If your mind is made up, and you are still sure that you want an oral piercing, there are some precautions that can make your choice safer:
• Plan ahead: Speak to your dentist (the expert in oral anatomy) for advice about the location you have chosen.
• Be sure your piercer has good references and is professional and competent. Sterile equipment and a clean environment are essential.
• Get instructions for aftercare, and follow them. Kissing, alcohol, or touching the site with unwashed hands are out of the question until it has healed, and good oral hygiene is imperative to minimize the risk of infection. There are several good over the counter, alcohol free mouth rinses that are effective at reducing bacteria. If it becomes necessary, the dentist can prescribe an effective antiseptic rinse.
• The piercing procedure and your oral jewelry should use surgical grade stainless steel, which is hypoallergenic. However, watch for inflammation (redness, swelling and pain) that doesn’t go away- this could be an indication that you are allergic to the metal in your jewelry, and you will need to remove it.
• When the tongue has been pierced, a short length of barbell is best, because it moves less and is less tempting to play with. Even tapping of jewelry against your tooth enamel can create tiny fractures

• Plastic jewelry is always preferable to metal because it is gentler and kinder to the enamel.

• As with anything else in the mouth, oral jewelry collects plaque and food particles. Remove and clean it regularly, and replace it if it becomes damaged.

• Don’t wear oral jewelry during a dental visit because it can interfere with x-rays, but do be sure to tell the dentist or hygienist about your piercing so that they can examine the site and look for possible problems.

• Most importantly, if your piercing causes any sensitivity or discomfort don`t hesitate to remove it.
• See your dentist or doctor right away if you experience symptoms of illness!

Fashion trends come and go and although most are harmless and fun, the price of being trendy may be higher than you expected. The potential cost of an oral piercing can be anything from minor cosmetic issues and sensitivity to thousands of dollars worth of repairs to the teeth, or permanent damage to the nerves and skin in the mouth. Ask yourself if the fashion statement is worth the potential long term cost. Have you experienced any negative effects as a result of oral (lip, tongue, cheek, etc.) piercings?

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