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Risky Business – The Very Real Dangers of Tongue Piercing

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The Very Real Dangers of Tongue Piercing

Risky Business – The Very Real Dangers of Tongue Piercing

January 17, 2006
By: Maayan S. Heller for Dental1

Body piercing has evolved over the years. Early on, it was often seen as a rebellious statement, but it's transitioned now into a form of self-adornment or embellishment. What once stood out as difference has now become mainstream, and hardly attracts the attention or visceral responses it once did.
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What you need to know about tongue piercing:

If you already have a piercing, consider changing metal barbells to plastic, which are less damaging to your teeth (or if you’re planning to get your tongue pierced, dentists recommend plastic over metal for your stud).

If you already have a piercing, methodically follow all oral hygiene instructions "to a T" as directed by your dental healthcare professional; this includes regular and thorough cleaning and rinsing, tongue brushing and scrubbing, the use of antiseptic mouthwash, and routine monitoring by the dental professionals.

If you have a piercing, try NOT to roll it around in your mouth; this can cause the piercing jewelry to hit your teeth and weaken them without your realizing it, and can cause cracks or major fractures in the future. Consult your dentist for means to protect weakened teeth with appropriate restorations.

If any discomfort or infection develops, safely remove your piercing as soon as possible and immediately seek professional advice which will help you carefully treat any problems.

Before getting your tongue pierced (or another part of your mouth or body), search around – find a place that is authorized to perform the desired procedure, investigate its reputations, cleanliness, track records and adherence to infection control protocol.

Don't be afraid to ask your piercer "how do you sterilize your instruments?” and about previous incidences of mishaps – types, and frequencies. Bad piercing practices can be linked with life threatening hemorrhage, transmission of infectious diseases, Hepatitis C, and even HIV/AIDS.

Part of the fun is the impulsiveness with which piercing decisions are made. The more piercings you see, the easier it is to be tempted. And then you're walking down the street, and you pass a piercing parlor, and you think, "why not?"

Well, there are some reasons why not, or at least, reasons to resist the impulse and think before piercing.
Any piercing comes with some health risks, even traditional ear piercing. But piercing your tongue in particular carries specific risks that might give you pause to reconsider.

"The mouth, due to the wide variety of bacteria living in harmony in our oral cavity environment, is probably one of the most contaminated places in our bodies. The skin is far cleaner due to comparatively lower numbers of bacteria," says Mohammed Bassiouny, DMD, MSc., PhD., a Professor of Restorative Dentistry at Temple University's School of Dentistry, and lead author on "Tongue Piercing: A Restorative Perspective," an article that appeared in the 2001 edition of Quintessence International, a provider of a wide variety of dental and medical materials and resources.

Disturbance to the mouth’s “balanced ecology” often leads to health problems. These can include tooth decay, periodontal diseases, mouth thrush or inflammation.
Besides being more contaminated than other commonly pierced parts, Dr. Bassiouny added that the mouth is also hidden and contains other structures vulnerable to piercing risks. “This invasive procedure can be very serious," he says, and many health issues might easily be overlooked.

The Health Issues

One of the main concerns with any body "beautification" (like piercing your tongue or another body part, or tattooing your skin) is the risk of infection to the area.

When it comes to your tongue, you're dealing with "a highly vascular organ," said Dr. Bassiouny. So there are a great number of risks for both the piercer and the piercee. A slight miss by the piercer can cause severe hemorrhaging (profuse bleeding) or transmission of infection.

Therefore, if you're set on getting your tongue pierced, it's absolutely crucial to make sure you're being pierced by someone who really knows what he or she is doing, and who has a reputable track record. Dr. Bassiouny emphasizes that it's best to find a certified professional to do the actual piercing.

Other serious piercing issues are delayed effects that can present future dangers. With the tongue, the main concerns are bacteria and trauma. Piercing creates a "tunnel" between two surfaces, said Dr. Bassiouny, through which bacteria can pass around the jewelry.
“Thus it may cause a localized disturbance of the balanced ecology of the mouth,” he said. This can lead to a variety of infections and infection-related problems including inflammation and severe swelling in the floor of the mouth (called cellulitis) which can interrupt swallowing and may obstruct the air passages and normal breathing.

Drooling, which often increases with in-mouth piercings, can also be a problem, facilitating the movement of bacteria between the mouth and the skin of the face and visa-versa.

Biting on metal tongue jewelry, which can often happen accidentally, can also be dangerous. Lots of people with pierced tongues have a habit of rolling the piercing around their mouths. This leads to another potential danger: Tooth fracture.

"The manipulation of the tongue and piercing can work exactly like a wrecking ball on the hard surfaces of the teeth," warned Dr. Bassiouny. Repeatedly knocking into the same areas on your teeth can easily weaken them, and might cause cracks and eventually fractures. This is more common for people whose teeth are already weakened by the effects of restorative dental work.

Because of its location, many problems caused by a tongue piercing can remain unnoticed and go from small and easily treatable to bigger, worse and costly to fix.
As piercing has become more common, so should the public awareness of its potential risks. Before popping into a piercing shop and emerging with new jewelry, know that there are resources out there which can tell you exactly what you need to know before you do it, not the least of which is your dentist.

But you can bet your dentist's advice will probably be that "it's ideal not to do it at all," said Dr. Bassiouny.

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