Our mouths contain millions of inhabitants, mainly bacteria.  Is there room for another guest?  Aggravating the oral cavity with piercings may increase your chances of getting an infection.  So, is this popular and trendy form of art safe?

There’s some beautiful and rich history behind oral piercings.  The Mayans pierced their tongues to demonstrate courage and virility. The Aleuts and Eskimos sometimes pierced the lips of female infants as part of a purification ritual and the lower lips of boys to signify part of the passage into puberty. Items used for piercings included stones, bones, or ivory. In some developing countries, oral piercings (using ivory, wood, pottery, or metal) are customs that continue to be practiced for religious, sexual, tribal, or marital significance.  The Surma tribe of Ethiopia wears large plates on their lower lips. Married men and widowers of the Suya tribe of Brazil adorn their mandibular lips with painted wood disks. Other tribes wear plugs on the upper lip or rings in the lower lip. And some inhabitants of Southern India pierce the tongue with a skewer to maintain a vow of silence.

Today oral piercing has become commonplace in modern society.  Traditionally, oral piercings are placed intraorally (most commonly on the tongue) or periorally on the lips, cheeks or combination of both.  Intraoral placement describes a piercing where both ends of the jewelry reside in the oral cavity.  Perioral placement describes jewelry that resides in the oral cavity and the other end penetrates the skin surface in the perioral region.  Although this deep-seeded prevailing tendency continues, our appreciation for its oral health implications are newly found.

Does this body adornment come free of complications and risks?  I think not.  There can be acute risks that immediately follow the piercing procedure. Some present themselves as long-term complications.  I encourage those considering oral piercings to educate themselves first by asking questions of their dental providers.

Studies show that there is a significant correlation between having oral piercings and an increased incidence of enamel abfractions, enamel fractures and gingival recession.  Immediate risks can be infection or swelling.  Your mouth is a moist environment and is a breeding ground for the colonization of periodontopathogenic bacteria.  In some cases, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to distant areas such as the heart which may carry a risk of developing endocarditis.  Immediate reactions may include swelling, which can lead to airway obstruction or hypersensitivity to metals causing an allergic reaction.  A numbing of the tongue can occur, due to nerve damage which is usually temporary, but in some cases may become permanent.  This could affect your sense of taste, and/or how you move your mouth.  If blood vessels are damaged, serious blood loss can occur.  Injury to the gums can occur through recession, lacerations and/or scarring.

Studies indicate that 50% of individuals with lip piercings and 44% of those with tongue piercings have resulted in cases of gingival (gum) recession.  Cracked, scratched, chipped and/or sensitive teeth can result.  Studies also show that about 26% comprise those with outcomes of damaged teeth.  Hypersalivation can also occur which can become a nuisance.  A build-up of calculus, which is a hard calcification of plaque can form on the piercings’ metal surface.  Tears in the soft tissue may also occur, either from piercing placement “playing” with the piercing.  Additionally, as the piercing heals, scar tissue and keloid formation may also occur.

It is already paramount that oral health routines, in the absence of oral piercings, be up to standard to prevent gum disease, cavities, fractured teeth and worn tooth enamel, but to add oral piercings to the mix is adding fuel to the fire.  Does having a potential multitude of consequences with probable negative outcomes outweigh having a healthy beautiful smile that can bring you years of enjoyable eating and confidence?  The answer to that is obvious. NO!!!

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