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

Barbara Tritz
· September 20, 2014 ·

5 minutes

Tongue piercing, lip rings, labrets, and other metal additions to 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
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

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:
American Dental Association:
Dr. Oz:

‘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 (and a fresh, clean pair every time!!), 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:

I truthfully admit, I have never been in a piercing parlor. [Update: I have now been in a piercing parlor! My daughters and I got our ears pierced for a special birthday. We did our research ahead of time to make sure ours was up-to-date on sterilization and I was impressed. I still don’t recommend oral piercings!!] 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.
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!
Till next time!  Keep on Smiling,


Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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