The popularity of oral piercings continues to rise around the world, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Many people see an oral piercing as a form of self-expression or self-identity. Others simply like the way they look.
It may be trendy to pierce your tongue or lip, but it’s essential to be aware of the health risks involved. There are millions of bacteria in your mouth, and it’s common for infection, swelling, broken teeth, or other complications to arise. There have even been cases of people’s airways closing and jewelry breaking off in the mouth, leading to choking. And these are just a few examples.
Below, we’ll discuss in more detail some of the potential dangers that oral piercings can pose for your dental health, how you can care for your piercing if you have one, what to expect when removing a piercing, and more.
WHAT ARE ORAL PIERCINGS?
While it’s possible to put a piercing in several different areas of the mouth, most oral piercings are through the tongue or lip. When both ends of a piercing reside inside the mouth (like a tongue piercing), it’s classified as “intraoral.” A piercing that has one end in the mouth and the other end coming out of the skin (such as a lip piercing) is known as “perioral.” Oral body modifications are nothing new; they have ancient origins dating back to the Mayan civilization.
There are many different types of oral piercings to choose from. Studs are the most popular and basic form of oral piercing. A stud is simply a metal rod that has a sphere on each end, and they’re often used for both tongue and lip piercings. Rings, hoops, and barbells are other popular options. Most oral jewelry is made of various metals, such as stainless steel, nickel, titanium, and gold.
From infection to tongue splitting, from endocarditis to gingival trauma, there’s a long list of health issues that can come from oral piercings. Be sure to consider the risks before getting (or keeping) an intraoral or perioral piercing.
Your mouth has a lot of bacteria. When you get a piercing in your tongue, lips, or any other area of your mouth, the piercing is at severe risk of infection. This is because the jewelry remains in constant contact with the bacteria in your mouth. Not only is infection painful, but it can also lead to serious health conditions like endocarditis and hepatitis if left untreated.
Irritation is normal with new oral piercings. In the first couple of weeks after a piercing, many people experience redness, swelling, a warm sensation, throbbing, and/or clear or white discharge. It’s important to note that if regions beyond your piercing site are red or swollen, you could have an infection. Persistent pain, swelling, warmth, bleeding, or fever can also indicate an infection, as can one or more bumps around the piercing.
If you think you may have an infection, it’s critical to reach out to your dentist. You may be able to treat a mild infection at home. But whether your infection is mild or severe, the safest option is to consult the medical professionals at South Charlotte Dentistry.
Nerve Damage and Swelling
When you get a tongue piercing, it will damage the nerves in your tongue. For most people, this causes numbness that goes away in time. But for others, the numbness can last permanently and potentially impact their sense of taste and the way they move their mouth.
Nerve damage in the tongue can also lead to swelling and severe, persistent discomfort. In the most extreme cases, the swelling can restrict breathing by blocking a person’s airway.
When you perform everyday activities like talking and eating with a piece of metal in your mouth, there’s a good chance that it will impact your teeth in one way or another. The contact between your jewelry and teeth can eventually lead to chips, cracks, or breakage. The risks are even greater if your piercing site is close to your gum line, as this can cause your gums to recede, leaving the roots of your teeth vulnerable to damage.
Typically, tongue splitting is intentional. It’s a type of body modification that involves splitting the tongue in half, resulting in a snake-like tongue (usually performed by a professional oral or plastic surgeon via scalpel or cauterization). However, tongue splitting can also occur unintentionally after getting a tongue piercing. This can happen through sudden trauma, such as a barbell being pulled through the length of the tongue, or over time if the piercing hole continues to grow larger and larger.
Needless to say, tongue splitting is intensely painful. But it also comes with many other risks, especially if you fail to seek immediate professional treatment. Heavy bleeding, gum/tongue infection, and nerve/muscle damage are a few of the most common complications. However, people with a split tongue can also experience persistent swelling, discharge, gum recession, permanent scarring, and thick scar tissue on the tongue.
Moreover, tongue splitting can result in significant long-term issues, even after healing occurs. For example, it’s not uncommon for a split tongue to lead to recurring mouth infections, increased saliva production, loss of taste, restricted tongue movement, changes in breathing, or airway blockage.
If you experience a split tongue from your oral piercing, contact a professional immediately. South Charlotte Dentistry is here to help you heal and mitigate the negative side effects!
As previously mentioned, oral piercings could potentially lead to endocarditis, especially if you have a history of heart defects. In short, endocarditis is when the inner lining of the heart chambers is inflamed. Often caused by mouth bacteria entering the bloodstream, it can be fatal if left untreated. Simply having an untreated cavity puts you at risk of endocarditis, and that risk is amplified when you have an oral piercing.
No one thinks it will happen to them until it does. And unfortunately, accidentally swallowing oral jewelry happens all the time, particularly among young adults and teenagers. If your piercing studio tells you that your tongue ring, barbell, or other devices will easily pass through your stool, don’t just take their word for it. Swallowing jewelry and parts of jewelry can cause obstruction, injury to the intestines, and other complications.
If your piercing is on your lip or in an area close to your jaws or gums, that means your jewelry will make constant contact with your gums. This is hard on your gums, and it can cause painful rashes, cuts, or wounds that eventually lead to infection.
Many people are unknowingly allergic to nickel. Since nickel is found in a lot of oral jewelry, you could discover your allergy the hard way. Allergic reactions are not fun. At the very least, they cause discomfort. At the worst, they can cause intense swelling, airway blockage, and other conditions that require immediate medical attention.
Damage to the Jaws and Mouth
It’s normal for chewing and talking to be difficult after you get an oral piercing, and it usually gets easier with time. However, if it doesn’t get easier, then you will have to use the wrong muscles in your jaws and mouth for chewing and talking. Among other issues, this can lead to temporomandibular disorders (TMD) like “lockjaw.” Common signs of lockjaw include jaw pain or tenderness, headaches, ringing in the ears, and earaches. And of course, lockjaw typically means that it’s hard for you to open and close your mouth.
If you notice any of these symptoms months or even years after you get an oral piercing, consult your dentist as soon as possible for evaluation and guidance. One way to alleviate TMJ pain is through trigger point massage. Be sure to seek this kind of service through a knowledgeable provider; chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and osteopathic physicians often perform trigger point massage.
Furthermore, look into the various exercises you can do at home to strengthen and relax your jaw muscles. For example, opening and closing your mouth repeatedly while touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth can relax the muscles in your jaw. Performing repetitive chin tucks can also give your jaw muscles a good workout; for this, all you do is stand against a wall, pull in your chin (making a double chin), and hold your position for three to five seconds. These are just a couple of jaw exercises that can do wonders for TMJ pain and disorders.
MAINTAINING A HYGIENE REGIMEN
You can expect there to be swelling and pain in the days following an oral piercing procedure. During this time, it’s critical to use an alcohol-free mouth rinse in the mouth and around the piercing site.
It’s also imperative to follow a stringent hygiene routine that keeps your entire mouth clean. This will help to reduce bacteria from spreading to your piercing site. Brush your teeth at least twice a day to prevent the buildup of bacteria and plaque; use a fluoride toothpaste and soft-bristle brush. Also, floss at least once a day to remove food and plaque from between your teeth. Other interdental cleaners, such as water flossers, can be helpful as well. Along with helping to maintain a clean piercing site, a steady oral hygiene routine will benefit your overall health and well-being.
REMOVING AN ORAL PIERCING
If you already have an oral piercing, or if you choose to get one in the future, you can take steps to keep your piercing site clean and mitigate some of the negative effects on your dental health. But you can also decide to remove the piercing, which can be a safer option as long as you approach it the right way.
While you may be able to remove the piercing yourself, it’s better to have your dentist do it, especially if you’ve never removed an oral piercing before. Within a few weeks, your tongue and mouth should feel normal. Be sure to continue your oral hygiene routine, and have your dentist evaluate your piercing site (and surrounding areas) to check for any problems with your teeth and gums.
Sometimes, a piercing hole closes on its own over time. And sometimes, the hole remains permanent. If you realize that your piercing hole is not closing, then you can get it closed through a surgical procedure that involves local anesthesia. While this procedure may cost you, it will reduce the likelihood of an infection occurring down the road.
If you’re thinking about getting an oral piercing, make sure you understand the risks and implications of doing so. Follow a strict oral hygiene regimen that will keep your piercing site and entire mouth clean. And if you ever choose to have your piercing removed, be sure to go through all the necessary steps to properly close the piercing hole while maintaining your overall oral health.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals at South Charlotte Dentistry! Whether you notice signs of infection, want your oral health evaluated, want your piercing removed, or simply need further advice on hygiene, we are here to help you stay healthy and happy!