The current trend toward body art – tattoos and piercings, in particular – shows no sign of slowing down. People love to express their individuality through their appearance, but some methods are riskier than others. And as you can imagine, dental professionals don't normally endorse tongue piercing rings, studs and barbells because they can cause a range of teeth problems.
Types of Tongue Piercings
The most popular tongue piercing is the stud. From simple barbell piercings positioned through the tongue to multiple piercings grouped into patterns, the stud is a versatile item that comes in a host of different colors and materials. It can also boast hearts, triangles, rectangles, squares and other creative shapes, according to Tattoo Easily, so it's even less necessary to settle for the traditional metal sphere.
Tongue piercing rings are also common, and these are inserted through the tongue in any position or through the lingual frenulum. This is a thin membrane that connects the tongue to the bed of the mouth, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. So how does a tongue piercing affect your teeth, and why aren't dentists in favor of this form of self-expression? Here are the most common problems:
A large portion of tongue piercers never remove their piercing. This is partly because the tongue can heal and close up fairly quickly if the space is not maintained. It also becomes a staple (no pun intended) of their personal style. Even so, the constant pressure of the piercing against the back of one's teeth can make them loosen and move, creating gaps where none previously existed. This is called diastema, and it can develop with or without the influence of oral jewelry.
Cracking and Chipping
It's easy to bump tongue jewelry against your teeth when talking or eating – especially at first. This habitual contact between teeth and piercing can cause the tooth enamel to chip away, exposing the sensitive layers of dentin and pulp underneath. Biting down hard can even cause a crack in the enamel that extends into the nerves of the tooth, according to a study by Clinical Oral Investigations. This can result in problems that may require a root canal to fix.
This is another common problem associated with tongue piercings, particularly in the weeks following the procedure. Secondary infections can result in the contraction and development of illnesses such as blood-borne hepatitis, angina and herpes, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
How to Avoid Problems
Don't panic; it's not all doom and gloom if you've already gotten one. By choosing (and caring for) tongue piercing rings and studs carefully, you can maintain good oral hygiene to ensure you don't fall victim to one of these avoidable conditions. You can significantly reduce your risk of damage from tongue piercings rings by choosing the right type of jewelry. The Association of Professional Piercers suggests the following to help you make your selection:
Choose a style that works well with the location in your mouth where you plan to place the piercing.
"Gauge" the area accordingly. You may need longer items at first so the initial swelling doesn't swallow the jewelry, but smaller items should replace them once the tongue adjusts to the item.
If you choose metal jewelry, make sure it conforms to surgical implant grade. You can view the minimum accepted standards here.
Use balls made of polymer on your tongue barbell to reduce the risk of tooth damage.
Select a smaller ball for the underside of your tongue, to lower the risk of contact with this sublingual area.
Taking Care of Your Piercing
If you are considering a tongue piercing, or already have one, these three steps will help you prevent problems from developing.
Keep your mouth as clean as possible by brushing and flossing daily, and rinsing with Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ Mouthwash after every meal for the first three weeks.
Avoid "playing" with your jewelry in your mouth. It's tempting, but this causes damage to your teeth and gums.
Make sure the ends of your piercing are properly attached and check them daily to keep them in place.
You'll want to remove your tongue jewelry if you play sports. Finally, contact your physician if you develop a fever, shaking, chills, persistent swelling or even red streaks around the piercing site. The last thing you want is an infection.