Mouth Jewelry, Oral piercings and Your Health

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

“Body art” in the form of mouth piercings is a trend that that started gaining popularity in the US in the early eighties and continues today. It is most common in teens and younger adults. While these individuals may think it is cool to pierce their tongue or their lips, most do not realize the health risks involved.

An oral piercing is a small hole placed in the tongue, lip, cheek, or uvula ( the tissue that hangs in the back of the throat) through which some form of jewelry can be placed. It is usually a metal bar or ring with decorative balls attached.

It is extremely important that, should a person decide to have a piercing, the procedure be done in a reputable studio that uses surgical implant grade jewelry, kept in sterilized packaging and performed with sterile or disposable instruments. Very serious health consequences include long term infection with hepatitis B or C and the potential for dangerous allergic reactions to the metals used in the jewelry. All staff involved should use disposable gloves and should be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Besides serious infections, there are other risks. Swelling of the tongue and uvula can cause an airway obstruction and difficulty breathing. Nerve damage can occur in the tongue leading to numbness or affecting the sense of taste. If a blood vessel is damaged, severe bleeding can occur. If the jewelry is not tightly secured, the pieces can come apart and cause a choking hazard. Jewelry that is not cleaned well can build up plaque and cause bad breath. A tongue piercing can increase saliva production leading to excessive drooling. Some people develop a habit of constantly clicking the metal jewelry against their teeth. This can lead to chipped, cracked or sensitive teeth. Even worse is when the metal ball is accidently bitten down on. This can seriously fracture a tooth. If the jewelry rests against the gums or teeth over a long period of time, tooth shifting and gum recession often occurs.

Dental X-rays can be compromised because the jewelry can get in the way.

While piercing may feel like a great idea, it should never be done on a whim. It is important look into it carefully and talk to a health professional if you have questions. As your neighborhood dentist; however, I vote “NOT”.

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