Oral Piercing – Is it worth the risk?

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It’s smart to know the potential issues before going forward

By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD, FAGD, Columnist, The Times

UTStephCollogoBody piercing has been a popular form of self-adornment since early tribal cultures began the practice thousands of years ago.  It is important to know are the specific dangers that come with oral piercings.

Unlike ears or other areas of cartilage, the inside of the mouth is home to millions of bacteria. A tongue piercing or tongue splitting may look cool or seem like a good idea at the time, but if swelling occurs the airway can be obstructed. This adds a serious level of risk to oral piercings.

Another common risk is broken teeth. It’s easy to accidentally bite the hard surgical steel or titanium jewelry and crack or break of tooth. Repeated clicking of the jewelry against the teeth can cause damage. A common occurrence is gum recession. The jewelry rubs against the gum tissue and wears it away. If the process continues it could ultimately lead to the need for a gingival graft or even could cause tooth loss. Oral piercings have also been related to serious infections like hepatitis or endocarditis (a specific heart infection).

Some piercings can interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing. The practice of uvula piercing (that little piece of tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat) is extremely dangerous.  A piece of jewelry could be aspirated and cause a blocked airway or a damaged lung.

pierceAnother concern is hypersensitivity to some of the metals involved. An allergic reaction centered on the lips, tongue or throat could be life-threatening.

In some cases numbness to the tongue may persist even if the jewelry is removed. This can be caused by a nerve that is injured during the piercing or healing process. A damaged nerve may affect the movement of your tongue, sense of taste, ability to speak normally and can affect normal eating.  Some individuals experience excessive drooling after a piercing.

Bleeding profusely after the piercing is also a cause for concern. The tongue has some large blood vessels that if cut or damaged may lead to significant blood loss.

As a dentist I sometimes have to ask a patient to remove their jewelry so that we can perform normal dental procedures, like cleanings, and x-rays.

If you are sure that piercing is right for you be sure to choose a professional to do it. Make sure they are using sterile equipment to prevent the spread of infections.  Be sure that the location you choose is following all regulations set forth by the state. Minors may not be pierced (or tattooed) without parental consent.

If you already have piercings here’s what you can do minimize the risk.

• Keep your mouth clean, use an antiseptic mouth rinse regularly and brush and floss twice daily.
• Avoid the type of jewelry that clicks against the teeth or rubs on the inside of your mouth. Smaller is better.
• Be sure the jewelry is tight to avoid the risk of aspirating or swallowing it should it come loose.
• Report any pain, swelling or redness, in the area of the piercing, to your dentist or physician immediately.
• If you play sports, be sure to have a mouth guard fitted properly to keep your teeth and mouth safe during play.
• Maintaining an oral piercing is a commitment to hygiene and regular dental care.
• Be sure to see your dentist regularly.

Piercing involving the mouth is the most dangerous form of body piercing. Please consider the risks before you pierce.

Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. She recently opened a new practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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Tags: infection, oral health, piercings, tooth damage

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