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  • Oral Health

Tongue Piercing

While piercing the tongue, lip, or cheek may be attractive to some, there are a number of health-related risks associated with oral piercing, including:

  • Infections. A wound is created by a piercing, and when combined with the bacteria in the mouth and the introduction of additional bacteria from handling the piercing will increase the risk of infections. The mouth is a moist environment, home to huge amounts of breeding bacteria, and an ideal place for infection. An infection can quickly become life threatening if not treated promptly. It's also possible for a piercing to cause your tongue to swell, potentially blocking your airway.
  • Transmission of diseases. Oral piercings are a potential risk factor for the transmission of herpes simplex virus and hepatitis B and C.
  • Endocarditis. Because of the wound created by the piercing, there's a chance that bacteria could enter the bloodstream and lead to the development of endocarditis -- an inflammation of the heart or its valves -- in certain people with underlying (and often undiagnosed and without symptoms) heart problems.
  • Nerve damage/prolonged bleeding. Numbness or loss of sensation at the site of the piercing or movement problems (for pierced tongues) can occur if nerves have been damaged. If blood vessels are punctured, prolonged bleeding can occur. Tongue swelling following piercing can be severe enough to block the airway and make breathing difficult. 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.
  • Excessive drooling. Tongue piercings can increase saliva production.
  • Dental appointment difficulties. The metal in oral piercings can get in the way of dental care and diagnosis, by blocking X-rays.
  • Gum disease. People with oral piercings -- especially long-stem tongue jewellery (barbells) -- have a greater risk of gum disease than those without oral piercings. The jewellery can come into contact with gum tissue causing injury as well as a recession of the gum tissue, which can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss. A common habit of biting or playing with the piercing can injure your gums and lead to cracked, scratched or sensitive teeth. Piercings can also damage fillings.
  • Hypersensitivity to metals. Allergic reactions at the pierced site are also possible.
    If you already have piercings:
    • Keep the piercing site clean and free of any matter that may collect on it, by using a mouth rinse after every meal.
    • Try to avoid clicking an oral piercing against teeth and avoid stress on the piercing. Be gentle and aware of the movement when talking and chewing.
    • Check the tightness of the piercing periodically (with clean hands). This can help prevent you from swallowing or choking if the piercing becomes dislodged.
    • When taking part in sports, remove the piercing and protect your mouth with a mouthguard.
  • Damage to teeth. Teeth can be damaged by oral piercings and have a risk of can chipping or cracking. One study in a dental journal reported that 47% of people wearing barbell tongue piercing for 4 or more years had at least one chipped tooth.
  • Difficulties in daily oral functions. Tongue piercings can result in difficulty chewing and swallowing food and speaking clearly. This is because the piercing stimulates an excessive production of saliva. Temporary or permanent drooling is another consequence of increased saliva production. Taste can also be altered.
  • Allergic reaction to metal. A hypersensitivity reaction -- called allergic contact dermatitis -- to the metal in the piercing can occur in susceptible people.
  • Piercing aspiration. Piercings that becomes loose in the mouth can become a choking hazard and, if swallowed, can result in injury to the digestive track or lungs.