Oral piercings have become trendy among young adults as a means of self-expression. However, unlike piercings on other parts of the body, piercing aftercare for the mouth requires more diligence, as the potential for infection will always be there even after healing. According to the American Dental Association's (ADA) statement on oral piercing, this type of body art is not recommended because of the health risks. Undergoing this procedure should be done only after carefully considering all the risks and possible complications. If you or someone you know is considering an oral piercing, a consultation with a dental professional before having the procedure done is strongly suggested.
Basics of Tongue and Oral Piercing
Oral piercing allows for some kind of jewelry placement in or around the mouth. The areas of the mouth include the tongue, lips, cheeks and uvula (the teardrop shaped tissue in the back of the throat). By far the most common oral piercing site is the tongue with the jewelry going from the top to the underside (dorsoventral). The most common site for lip piercing is the lower lip near the corner of the mouth. The jewelry used for the tongue piercing is most commonly a barbell, and a ring is used for tip of tongue and lip piercing. Another jewelry choice is a labrette that is typically used to pierce below the lower lip at the indentation of the chin.
Because the mouth contains an abundance of bacteria, infection is the most common risk associated with oral piercings. Because of the high concentration of microorganisms in the mouth, the immediate time after the tissue is pierced is most critical. Also, handling the jewelry with unwashed hands, as well as ingesting certain types of food and drink, can spark an infection. Pain and swelling at the piercing site should be addressed and always checked out by a dentist.
Other complications can arise that affect the mouth and teeth, including injuries to the gums and teeth as well as teeth sensitivity stemming from the components of the jewelry. More extreme complications from tongue piercing can be an obstructed airway from swelling or ingestion of the jewelry and uncontrolled bleeding due to the tongue's vascular make-up.
The piercing should be done by a trained professional using sterile instruments to avoid infection both at the site and systemically. By seeking a professional who uses a sterile environment, secondary infections and viruses like hepatitis B can be avoided. Once completed, the area should be cleaned routinely using a disinfecting mouthwash until the piercing heals. Don't play with or rotate the ornament after placement and avoid smoking, chewing tobacco or placing foreign objects, like fingernails, pencils or sunglasses, in your mouth, since they can harbor bacteria. Once healed, daily maintenance should include:
- Removing the jewelry when eating or sleeping.
- Brushing jewelry and teeth daily.
- Rinsing with an alcohol-free rinse like Colgate Total® Gum Health Mouthwash.
- Removing jewelry before sports or other physical activity that may harm the mouth.
If some type of oral piercing appeals to you and your personality, being informed and prepared for the aftercare is paramount. Continual maintenance is required to avoid injury and infection that could lead to loss of the piercing or, worse yet, some alteration or loss of tissue in and around the mouth. Regular dental visits are needed to examine the piercing site and the adjacent teeth and soft tissues. Information and diligence is key to maintaining your health and conveying the personal statement you'll make with your piercing and your smile!