The Many Ways Oral Piercings Can Wreck Your Teeth & Gums

Earlier this year, a French fashion magazine suggested that lip piercings might just be “the next go-to jewelry trend for an event or daily life.” (Allure, for one, begged to differ.)

Of course, oral piercings are hardly new. The most recent data we could find says that up to 12% of the population has at least one, with tongue piercings being most common. But whether it’s the tongue, lip, cheek, frenum (the bit of skin that connects the lips or tongue to the gums or floor of the mouth), or even the uvula (that knob of tissue hanging in the back of the throat) that’s pierced, it’s a kind of body art that presents a certain sort of cool.

Unfortunately, as a new study reminds, oral piercings have some very uncool dental effects.

Its authors began by searching the major databases of medical research, looking for relevant studies on injuries, complications, and changes caused by oral piercings. Fifty-four publications made the cut, including 39 on tongue piercings, 29 on lip piercings, and 11 on piercings at other oral sites.

Most of the studies relied on self-reporting, which does raise some questions about accuracy. People don’t always remember things correctly or report everything they’re asked about. Still, a wide range of dental problems were reported.

Periodontal and tooth damage were the most reported, followed by soft tissue/mucosal injuries, speech disorders, chewing, soft plaque, and saliva. Pain was the most reported complication, followed by infection, swelling, bleeding, inflammation, allergy, and adornment aspiration.

Tooth damage included fractures, chipping, and excessive wear, as well as greater sensitivity. Gum recession and gum disease were especially common periodontal problems.

None of the studies addressed the potential energetic aspects of punching through various oral meridians and constantly wearing metal in the hole after that. (Though plastic jewelry is an option, it seems most folks prefer metal.)

Body piercings are nearly always located in places that correlate to acupuncture points on the body’s meridians of energy. Acupuncturists use these points to insert fine needles for short periods of time to modify or unblock energies that are causing health problems, so having a permanent metal piercing there is certainly going to have an effect.

pierced frenumOf course, statistics are one thing. Hearing people describe the dental problems they experienced after getting an oral piercing is quite another. YouTube hosts more than a few videos that deliver such stories – this one, for instance, or this. While not everyone will experience dental damage or complications, enough do that it’s something to consider when deciding whether to get an oral piercing or not.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of them, as one recent Italian study showed. Yet many

Among the respondents, 46.8% said they had not been informed about these risks, 48.5% claimed not to clean the piercing, 70.6% stated that they had not been made aware of gingival [gum] problems that can arise, 60.4% subjects stated that they were not informed about the complications of piercings concerning teeth, 52.8% had insufficient oral hygiene conditions, 42% showed signs of generalised gingivitis, 20% had 3–4 mm recessions and 22% had tooth fracture(s) due to piercing. From this study, it emerged that oral piercings can represent a risk to oral health and that there is a widespread lack of awareness of the complications and correct methods of maintaining oral piercings.

To pierce or not is ultimately a personal decision. But good decision-making depends on considering the risks as well as the benefits.

Images by melinka & Jean-Rene Vauzelle, via Wikimedia Commons

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