The Good, the Bad, and the VERY Ugly of Oral Piercing

Tongue piercing, lip rings, labrets, and other mutilations of the mouth have me baffled and very worried!
As the title implies, I’ll  be discussing the”good”, the “bad” and the “very ugly”.   I’ll be including pictures so if you get squeamish, don’t go any further.  Trust me that these are disgusting photos!

This is one craze that I hope will fade far away!  So, what’s good about it?  Well, it’s “cool,” it gives off an “edgy” vibe.  “Everyone’s doing it.”  “Parents hate it.”  Hmmm, after this blog, I hope to change some of that coolness into very lukewarmness at best.  If you do decide to get pierced after reading this, at least know your risks and potential dangers associated with oral piercings.  Here are the things no one tells you:

                                                   The BAD 

                                      Permanent and lasting damage to teeth
                                      Gingivitis
                                      Gum recession
                                      Chronic infection encircling the piercing
                                      More infection and possibly even death
                                      Choking hazard
                                      The barbell can unscrew and can be inhaled or ingested.
                                      Lingering pain and nerve damage called neuralgia
                                      Serious blood loss
                                      Tongue swelling and blocking the airway
                                      Loss of taste
                                      Loss of tongue mobility
                                      Scar tissue
                                      Unsterile instruments causing Hepatitis B,C, D, & G, or HIV
                                      Endocarditis [infection in the heart from oral bacteria]
                                      Allergic reaction to the metal especially nickel
                                      Ludwig’s Angina
                                      Blood poisoning
                                      Toxic Shock
                                      Death

Somehow, these possible outcomes don’t seem sexy, edgy, or very cool to me.   I have seen gum infection, tooth chipping, gum recession, and bone loss in some of my own patients due directly to oral piercing.  Forty-five to 50 % of people with tongue piercings have chipped teeth.
The mouth is filled with over 800 varieties of bacteria, not to mention the fungi, and viruses.  They live in the furrows of your tongue, teeth, gums and  tonsillar areas.  Most of these  microbes are good, but the bad ones are really bad.  They cause inflammation and disease not only in your mouth but throughout your body.  The possibility of voluntarily allowing infection to travel throughout the body, introduced through the piercing, wrecking the immune system could play a part in the early onset of diabetes and heart disease.  According to the Center for Disease Control oral piercings pose a high risk for infectious complications.

Here come the UGLY pictures:

More information at these sites:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852294/
American Dental Association:  http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/oral-piercing
Dr. Oz: http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/arthur-perry-md-facs/tongue-piercing-expensive-hobby

‘Nuff said. Yes, the potential is there for serious problems. They don’t show you these complications at the tattoo and piercing parlors.  While these possible “bad” outcomes may not happen to you, they have happened to others – there’s no way to know if you’ll be in that “other” group.    That $50.00 piercing costs much more to repair.  Dentists do make their living repairing damaged teeth and gums. 😉

If you must:
Still want it?  Go to a reputable licensed parlor.  Check their reviews on Google and other sites.  Don’t do it on a whim or while drinking.  Be sure they use disposable gloves, have an autoclave, and understand sterilization procedures.  Better yet, familiarize yourself with sterilization procedures and observe theirs.  Do they have an infection control policy posted?  Do they take your blood pressure and medical history?  Have they been immunized for hepatitis?  If you have hepatitis or diabetes, please don’t get pierced– if you get an infection when your body doesn’t heal well, you’re in trouble.   After-care is vital to keep the area healthy– keep it very clean, use clean hands.  Don’t play with it.  Do not have oral contact with anyone while the site is healing (no kissing!).  If you see infection, redness, swelling, white streaks, or sharp pain go to a medical professional, immediately.  This could be life threatening, don’t wait.   Do use plastic tongue bars rather than metal– less damage to teeth.   Check the tightness of your jewelry to ensure you don’t swallow it or choke on it.

Association of Professional Piercers: http://www.safepiercing.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Troubleshooting_Web.pdf

I truthfully admit, I have never been in a piercing parlor.  My experience in this area is limited to what I see clinically in the office and in my reading, which I’m sure is very different from yours.  So, I want to share that information and then you can at least make an informed, educated decision with all the facts, not just that it is “cool.”  This decision will stay with you for the rest of your life.
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Next week I’m off to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the American Association of Oral Systemic Health Scientific Session.  I’ll have lots of new information to share about the oral systemic link soon!  Meanwhile I’m working on a post about dental fears and phobias, and how to deal with that.

Remember to change your toothbrush heads with the season change!
Til next time!  Keep on Smiling,
Barbara

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