Effects of Oral Body Piercings

Piercing is becoming a more prevalent form of body art and self-expression in today's society. People interested in this trend, however, should be aware that it is not without health risks. Oral piercings, which involve the tongue, lips, cheeks or a combination of sites, have been implicated in a number of adverse oral and systemic conditions.

People who have oral piercings done typically undergo the procedure without anesthetic. In tongue piercing, a barbell-shaped piece of jewelry typically is placed in the tongue using a needle. Initially, a temporary device longer than the jewelry of choice is placed to accommodate postpiercing swelling. In the absence of complications, healing takes four to six weeks.

Tongue splitting is considered by some to be a form of body art. The process literally splits a person's tongue into two pieces, creating a "forked" appearance. Without anesthesia, a scalpel may be used followed by a cauterizing pen, or fishing line may be threaded through the pierced tongue and pulled forward, splitting the end of the tongue in two.

Individuals regularly pull the two tongue pieces apart to maintain the split so it does not "heal" back together. Once healed, additional surgery may be required to repair the "split" should the individual decide reversal is desired.

Common symptoms after oral piercing include pain, swelling, infection, an increased flow of saliva and injuries to the gum tissue. If a blood vessel was in the path of the needle during the piercing, severe and difficult-to-control bleeding can result. For some, chipped or cracked teeth, blood poisoning or even blood clots can occur. For many, the swelling of the tongue is a common side effect. And in extreme cases, a severely swollen tongue can actually close off the airway and prevent breathing.

Unfortunately, many people with oral piercings don't realize that these alarming side effects could happen to them. So, skip the mouth jewelry and let your healthy smile make your fashion statement.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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