Dr. Michael Handler

How Tongue and Lip Piercings Affect Dental Health

By Dr. Michael Handler

Both teens and adults these days have embraced body piercing as a form of self-expression, but no matter how “cool” oral piercings might look, they can be dangerous to your health. Tongues contain an enormous amount of bacteria, which have free access to your bloodstream once you pierce a hole in your oral tissues. You might be fortunate and have no bad effects, but if you’re one of the less fortunate people you could end up with all sorts of problems. Here’s what to watch for and how to prevent problems with your piercing.

Tooth Damage

Hard objects in your mouth can cause tooth damage in several ways.  If you bite down hard on the piercing you could break or crack a tooth, while the ongoing rattling of the jewelry against your teeth can wear down the enamel, expose the nerves and become very painful, causing the need for root canal therapy. Most people with oral piercings like to swirl their jewelry around, too, which is not only a risk for your oral health but also for your overall wellness.

How to avoid this:

Have your piercings done by an experienced, trusted professional who knows how to make sure the piercing won’t interfere with oral or physical health. Remove your piercings when you eat or sleep to avoid causing dental trauma to your teeth and gums when you’re not in full control. 

Infection and Swelling

If bacteria get into the piercing wound, your tongue can swell up and block your airway. This is potentially life-threatening, as well as the fact that the infection has a direct route into your circulatory system. Infection that spreads through the body via the bloodstream is typically called septicemia or blood poisoning, which causes the development of a fever and low blood pressure.

How to avoid this:

Apart from getting the piercings done by a professional, it’s important to take care of your oral hygiene—particularly in the first few weeks after the procedure. Brush and floss at least twice daily, and use an antibacterial mouth rinse to help eliminate germs. Watch your piercing carefully for any signs of infection.

Systemic Poisoning

If you develop an infection that travels to your internal organs, heart, brain, and lungs it can have devastating consequences, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other consequences are toxic shock syndrome and septic arthritis. People with medical conditions such as heart diseasediabeteshemophilia, and autoimmune diseases that could make it difficult for the piercing to heal are especially at risk.

How to avoid this:

After piercing, carefully follow the instructions you’re given for cleaning and keeping your mouth germ free, and monitor the appearance of your piercing daily until it heals. If you feel at all feverish or you develop pain at the site of the piercing, get medical attention immediately.

Receding Gums

Patients wearing tongue piercings have a higher risk of developing gum disease, according to researchers in Switzerland who examined 14 people with piercings. They found the subjects had more instances of bleeding, inflammation and receding gums than those without piercings. The closer the piercing was to the teeth the more likely it was to have affected gums.

How to avoid this:

Try to resist the temptation to ‘play’ with the piercing in your mouth. Stick to your oral hygiene routine and examine your gums and other oral tissues frequently for any signs of recession. If you see the gums beginning to recede, make an appointment with your dentist right away.

Nerve Damage

It’s entirely possible to puncture a nerve, especially during a tongue-piercing procedure. This can cause temporary numbness or permanent damage, which you’ll only be able to determine later. Permanently injured nerves can affect the way in which your oral muscles work, impacting your speech and ability to chew. You may also find your sense of taste is affected in the long-term.

How to avoid this:

It’s of primary importance that you get any oral piercings done by qualified, experienced people. Before you get a piercing, make sure you’re up to date on vaccines for Hepatitis B and tetanus. Choose a licensed piercing professional whose facilities look clean and well-run, and check to determine that he or she washes their hands with a germicide cleaner, uses fresh disposable gloves and sterilized tools.

After you’ve done the research and short-listed a few professionals, check online reviews to determine how well others have fared under their care. It’s almost certain if someone has sustained nerve damage through getting a piercing, you’ll find a mention of it somewhere.

For more information on how piercings affect your dental health, please schedule an appointment with our dentist in Scarborough at 416-267-4661, or click here to book online.


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