Dental Tribune Europe

Oral piercings pose a health risk

By Dr. Steffen Klabunde, Germany
July 17, 2014

Piercings in the mouth area pose a health risk not only because the danger of infection in the mouth is very high, but also because oral piercings often cause damage to the gingivae and teeth. Piercing is popular among adolescents and young adults. Common areas for oral piercings are the lips, frenulum, tongue and cheek. However, in these areas especially, complications and long-term side-effects occur frequently.

With tongue or lip piercings, nerves can be damaged irreparably. Tongue piercing, in particular, often leads to prolonged bleeding and severe swelling. If the piercing is not performed under sterile conditions, infections are possible. Even minor infections can lead to ugly keloid scars. Particularly in the cheek area, unsightly indentations of the skin may appear. Less serious side-effects include initial speech and chewing impediments, which gradually decrease.

Owing to the mechanical stress of the metal parts of the piercing jewellery, long-term wearing of piercings can result in permanent damage to the teeth and gingivae. With tongue piercings, speaking, chewing or tongue movements cause the metal to strike the teeth. Over time, irreparable fine cracks in the enamel can occur, resulting in cold and heat sensitivity, irritation of the tooth nerve or tooth decay. Owing to the high risk of damage, ceramic prostheses are not recommended in patients with tongue piercings.

With lip piercings, the part of the jewellery that lies inside the mouth is at the level of the gingivae below the visible part of the teeth. The constant rubbing against the gingivae can cause gingival recession and damage to the tooth root and the underlying bone over time. Gingival damage due to lip piercings is common. I have examined 78 patients with pierced lower lips in my practice. More than 70 per cent of them showed mild to severe damage to the gingivae. Placing the piercing a little higher (or lower in the case of the top lip), at the level of the visible part of the teeth, could prevent such damage. However, this option bears the risk of constant friction of the metal against the teeth, resulting in enamel cracks and chipping.

Piercing jewellery is commonly made from titanium, a precious metal that does not cause allergies. Jewellery made of plastic is also available and is meant to be less harmful to the teeth and gingivae, as it is softer. However, the allergy risk of such material has not yet been determined.

In our practice, we advise against oral piercings because the risk of damage to the teeth and gingivae is high and a pierced lip or tongue is a gateway for infections. Patients should inform themselves thoroughly about the possible risks before having a piercing done.

Those who have oral piercings should undergo regular dental examination so that the jewellery can be removed immediately at the first sign of damage.

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