Oral Piercings …. Not a Harmless Trend
November 28, 2017
Oral piercings are popular amongst young people. They may look cool but they are not harmless. Oral piercings are placed in different areas of the mouth such as the lip, tongue, cheeks, frenum and uvula (the tiny tissue that hangs at the back of the throat) and they can interfere with speech, chewing and swallowing. Due to the risk of adverse health effects, the British Dental Association (BDA) and British Oral Health Foundation both advise against oral piercings 1,2.
Risks related to oral piercings:
- Infection, pain and swelling. Our mouths harbour millions of bacteria. The area pierced can get infected shortly after the piercing is performed. An infection can quickly become life threatening if not treated promptly. It’s also possible for a piercing to cause the tongue to swell, potentially blocking the airway.
- Nerve damage. After a piercing, you may experience a numb tongue that is caused by nerve damage that is usually temporary, but can sometimes be permanent. 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.
- Hypersensitivity to metals. Allergic reactions at the pierced site are also possible.
- Excessive drooling. Your tongue piercing can increase saliva production.
- Damage to teeth and fillings. A common habit of biting or playing with the piercing can injure your teeth and lead to cracked, chipped or sensitive teeth. Piercings can also damage fillings.
- Damage to gums. Piercings can be a cause of chronic trauma on the gums next to the piercing. This can cause the gums to recede or even in some cases the bone which supports the teeth to be lost.
- Dental appointment difficulties. The jewellery can get in the way and you may be asked to remove them for a dental x-ray.
Research has shown that 50% of people with lip piercings and 44% of people with a tongue piercing will suffer from gum recession due to their piercings, whilst tooth injuries will occur in 26% individuals with lip piercings and in up to 37% of individuals with tongue piercings. People with a lip piercing are 4.14 times more likely to develop gum recession than those without a lip piercing. People with a tongue piercing are 3 times more likely than people with no piercings to experience gum recession and tooth injuries3.
Types of oral piercings
If you already have piercings:
- Contact your GP immediately if you have any signs of spreading infection such as swelling, bleeding, redness around the site or feeling unwell.
- Keep the piercing site and the jewellery clean.
- Try to avoid playing with the jewellery, rolling it against your teeth, or biting on it.
- Check the tightness of your jewellery periodically (with clean hands). This can help prevent you from swallowing or choking if the jewellery becomes dislodged.
- When taking part in sports, remove the jewellery and protect your mouth with a mouth-guard.
- Try to use plastic-coated jewellery opposed to metal jewellery as they are less traumatic.
- Use the shorter tongue bars as they are less likely to reach your teeth and gums whilst talking and chewing
Of course, the best option is to consider removing the jewellery before it causes a problem.
Anastasios, our associate dentist, has carried out research with the University of Athens on the potential impact of the oral piercings on the health of teeth and gums 4. He examined 110 people with 161 oral piercings in total and he found that the type of the jewellery and its position are important factors. The longer the period of time that someone has a piercing in their mouth, the more likely it is for damage on the teeth and gums to occur. Almost half of the participants who had the piercing for more than 3 years were found to have damage to one or more teeth or fillings and more than half had associated gum recession to the teeth next to the jewellery. Also in the presence of a piercing habit (biting rolling stroking or sucking), the damage to the teeth and gums was more prevalent. The results of this study have been published and can be accessed here.
- BDA Position. British Dental Association. Tongue piercing:
- Oral Health Foundation Position
- Hennequin-Hoenderdos NL, Slot DE, Van der Weijden GA. The prevalence of oral and peri-oral piercings in young adults: A systematic review. Int J Dent Hyg.2012 Aug;10(3):223-8.
- Plessas A, Pepelassi E. Dental and periodontal complications of lip and tongue piercing: prevalence and influencing factors. Aust Dent J. 2012 Mar;57(1):71-8.
This blog has been written by Anastasios Plessas, Associate Dentist