Oral piercing of the tongue, lip and cheek may be trendy among teenagers, but the side effects can be dangerous to their teeth and mouth. If you’re tempted to pierce your lip, cheek or tongue, be advised that such piercings come with significant risks. Many teenagers or young adults do not take the time to learn about the risks associated with oral piercings.
Infection and Swelling
Infections from tongue piercings are common because the tongue is covered with bacteria. Your mouth contains millions of bacteria, and infection and swelling often occur with mouth piercings. For instance, your mouth and tongue could swell so much that you close off your airway or you could possibly choke if part of the jewelry breaks off in your mouth. The moment the tongue is punctured, these bacteria may be introduced into the blood. Dentists are learning that oral infections can lead to infections in other parts of the body as well. Bacteria can reach your heart and cause a variety of health problems. A dentist or doctor should be consulted at the very first sign of infection.
Damage to Gums and Teeth
A common habit of biting or playing with the piercing can injure your gums and lead to cracked, scratched or sensitive teeth. People chip teeth on tongue piercings while eating, sleeping, talking and chewing on the jewelry. Piercings can also damage fillings. A chipped tooth can be confined to the enamel of the tooth and require a filling or it may go deep into the tooth, which may require a root canal or tooth extraction. Gum tissue can also be injured by the jewelry, by causing the gums to recede. Receding gum line exposes the tooth root that can lead to decay and periodontal disease.
Hypersensitivity to Metals
Although any piercing is prone to infection, a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health (January 2011) found that stainless steel jewelry can accumulate more bacteria than jewelry made from plastics such as Teflon® (or polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE). So, if your teen insists on getting an oral piercing, wearing plastic jewelry rather than metal may pose less risk for infection.
Nerve Damage to the Tongue
After an oral piercing, you may experience a numb tongue in the area where the piercing was done. This is because the nerve was damaged from the piercing. Sometimes the numbness does not go away and you will have permanent nerve damage in that area. The injured nerve may affect your sense of taste, or how you move your mouth. Damage to your tongue’s blood vessels can cause serious blood loss.
Piercings Interfere with Normal Oral Function
Any type of oral piercing can cause an increase in salvia production. Also, you can have difficulty in pronouncing your words correctly and have problems with chewing and swallowing food.
If you already have an oral piercing be sure to:
- Keep the piercing site clean and free of any matter that may collect on the jewelry by using an antiseptic mouthwash after every meal and brush the jewelry the same as you would brush your teeth to remove any plaque.
- Contact your dentist or physician immediately if you have any signs of infection—swelling, pain, fever, chills, shaking or a red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing.
- Try to avoid clicking the jewelry against teeth. Be gentle and aware of the jewelry’s movement when talking and chewing.
When playing a sport remove the jewelry and protect your mouth with a mouth guard.
- See your dentist regularly, and remember to brush twice a day and floss daily.
- Contact your dentist or physician immediately if you have any signs of infection such as swelling, pain, fever, chills, or a red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing.
Of course, the best option is to consider removing mouth jewelry before it causes a problem. The piercing will be an added responsibility to your life, requiring constant attention and upkeep.