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Tongue piercing and tooth gaps

Parents and teens, take note: researchers have discovered that patients who wear a metal stud in a tongue piercing may not only be risking their dental and overall oral health but are also at risk for developing orthodontic problems.

A case study at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in New York followed a 26-year-old woman who had developed a diastema, or space between her front teeth, over a seven-year period because the barbell-shaped tongue stud in her tongue piercing was pushing up and against her front teeth. Photos she provided of herself showed that, before getting her tongue pierced, she had no space between her front teeth.

The only solution to her problem was long-term wearing of a fixed brace.

"It is a basic tenet of orthodontic that force, over time, moves teeth," said the study's primary investigator, Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, assistant professor of orthodontics at the UB School of Dental Medicine.

Dr. Tabbaa said a previous UB dental school survey study of Buffalo high school students showed a barbell implant/stud could lead to serious damage when patients pushed the metal stud up against and between their upper front teeth, a habit commonly referred to among the students as "playing."

"And it happened in very high percent of the cases," said Dr. Tabbaa. "The barbell is never removed because the tongue is so vascular that leaving the stud out can result in healing of the opening in the tongue, so it makes perfect sense that constant pushing of the stud against the teeth—every day with no break—will move them or drive them apart."

Other risks from tongue piercings include pain and swelling, infection, increased salivary flow, injured or receding gums, chipping or damage to teeth and dental restorations, difficulty speaking or chewing, hemorrhage and even brain abscesses. Those wearing tongue studs also risk swallowing or aspirating jewelry. Oral ornaments can compromise the quality of x-rays and the metal can cause pulpal sensitivity.

Visit for specifics on the risks of tongue piercings and splittings and encourage the teens and young adults in your life to protect their health by saying no to tongue piercings.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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