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What are the dangers of mouth piercings?

Todd A. Welch, DMD
Periodontics

When it comes to getting the tongue pierced, there are many risks and adverse effects involved. Firstly we will be simply focusing on the process involved in getting the tongue pierced.

Tongue Piercing Procedure

Firstly a marker is used to mark the spot on the tongue where the piercing will be placed. To prevent the tongue from moving it is held by some sort of a clamp. This prevents the needle from hitting a blood vessel or causing damage to a nerve by going through the wrong part. Usually a thick needle is then stuck into the tongue without the use of any anesthetic. The reason that no anesthetic is used is because the piercers are not licensed medical professionals. A long barbell that is about 18 millimeters long is then inserted into the hole that is made in the tongue. Using a short barbell is avoided since it can get trapped inside the tongue if its swells around it. The initial 18 mm barbell is usually replaced with a shorter one if the tongue piercing does not get infected.

Tongue Piercing Risks

While many people today find it attractive to get their tongue pierced, there are several health related risks involved in getting the tongue pierced, which include:

Infections:

While piercing the tongue, lip, or cheek may be attractive to some, there are a number of health-related risks associated with oral piercing, including:

  • Damage to teeth: Coming into contact with tongue piercing can chip or crack the teeth.
  • Problems with eating: The presence of tongue jewelry makes it difficult for people to eat.
  • Loss of taste: Those who get their tongues pierced even end up losing taste of edibles.
  • Problems with speaking: A piercing in the tongue also makes it hard for people to speak.
  • Additionally, the gingival tissue can get injured, scar tissue can be formed and salivation can be increased because of the tongue piercing.
Tongue Piercing Adverse Effects

A tongue piercing can even cause life threatening adverse effects such as:

  • Infections: The risk of infections is increased because of the bacteria present in the mouth and those that can be additionally introduced.
  • Transmission of diseases: The transmission of organisms such as Hepatitis B, C, the herpes simplex virus, HIV, poses a potential life threatening risk factor when getting the tongue pierced.
  • Airway obstruction: Severe swelling of the tongue can block the airway and make it difficult to breathe.

Thus overall tongue piercing is quite risky and people should therefore evaluate the risks before going forth with it.

If you're thinking about getting an oral piercing -- or if you already have one or more -- there are some health risks you should know about. For starters, a mouth piercing can interfere with speech, chewing, or swallowing. That may seem like a mere inconvenience until you consider that it may also cause:
  • Infection: Given that the mouth contains bacteria, oral piercing carries the potential for infection at the site of piercing. Touching your mouth jewelry, such as tongue barbells and lip and cheek labrettes, can increase the risk for infection. It creates a perfect opportunity for bacteria on the hands to infect piercing sites. And food particles that collect around piercings are breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Prolonged bleeding: Damage to your tongue's blood vessels can cause serious blood loss.
  • Swelling: Swelling commonly occurs after oral piercing. There have been some reports of swelling after tongue piercing that has been serious enough to block airways.
  • Nerve Damage: If this happens, you may experience temporary or permanent damage. The injured nerve might make your tongue feel numb. Other injuries could change your sense of taste or how you move your mouth.
  • Excessive drooling and difficulty speaking and eating: Oral jewelry can cause excessive saliva production and also can affect your ability to pronounce words clearly. The hoop-, ring-, stud, and barbell-shaped jewelry can also get in the way of your ability to talk and eat.
  • Damage to teeth and gums: Some people also develop a habit of biting the barbells, or playing with the balls in their mouths, which can injure the gums and lead to cracked, scratched or sensitive teeth. This damage may result in the need for dental treatment, such as crowns, filings or root canal.
  • Allergic Reactions: The metal may cause an allergic reaction at the pierced site.
  • X-rays: Mouth jewelry can interfere with dental radiographs (x-rays).
  • Bloodborne disease transmission: Oral piercing has been identified as a possible factor in transmission of hepatitis B, C, D, and G.
  • Heart Problems: Oral Piercing carries a potential risk of endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves or tissues. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the piercing site in the mouth and travel to the heart, where they can multiply.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.