Body piercing trends come and go. In the early 2000s, belly button rings were all the rage. Then came tongue piercings, followed by septum piercings. These days, it seems like a gum piercing, sometimes called a "smiley piercing," is the latest trend. But what's involved in piercing your gums, and is it something you should even consider?
What Happens When You Pierce Your Gums?
One of the first things to know about this piercing is that you aren't technically going to pierce your gums. Instead, the piercing goes through the frenulum, the small flap of tissue that connects the gums to the lips. One of the most common locations for a gum piercing is on the upper part of the mouth, right above the two front teeth. You can also have the tissue that connects the lower lip to the gums pierced (sometimes called a "frowny piercing").
Part of the appeal of gum piercings is that the piercing itself is mostly hidden. When your mouth is relaxed or closed, no one can see the jewelry. But when you smile, the decoration peeks out — making it a "smiley piercing." Whether you decide to pierce the upper part of your mouth or the lower part, it's important to understand what risks are involved and what you need to do to take good care of the piercing.
What Are the Risks of Gum Piercings?
Any type of body piercing comes with risks. As the American Dental Association (ADA) points out, oral piercings can be particularly risky, since millions of bacteria live in the mouth and it's a very hospitable place for pathogens to grow and thrive. There's a greater risk of infection when you pierce the inside of your mouth compared to when you get your ears or another external location pierced.
Another potential problem with piercing your frenulum is that the piercing itself can do some damage to your teeth and gums. Even a small metal ring can wear away at the enamel over time as it rubs against your front teeth, and it may irritate the gum and inner lip tissue. Some people can also be affected by sensitivities or allergies to metal jewelry.
How Do You Care for the Piercing?
If you do decide to get an oral piercing, having an aftercare plan is important to make sure that it doesn't become infected or otherwise cause a problem or injury. Choose a professional piercing shop with good customer reviews, and ask your piercing specialist to show you how to properly clean your piercing site and take your jewelry in and out.
Although the ADA advises against gum and oral piercings, it does offer some advice to help care for the area to reduce the risk of irritation or infection. For example, the ADA recommends using an alcohol-free mouthwash to fight bacteria and keep the rest of the mouth clean.
It's also a good idea to remove the piercing from time to time to protect your teeth and gums from damage. For example, if you play sports or are very active, take out the piercing so there's no chance of it ripping or getting knocked against your teeth, and protect your teeth with a mouth guard. As Refinery29 notes, a smiley piercing heals quickly, so you're able to remove it for hours or even days at a time without having the piercing close up.
If you do feel any swelling, pain or other signs of an infection at the piercing site, do not take it out, instructs the U.K. National Health Service. Instead, make an appointment to see your doctor or dentist as soon as possible and follow their instructions for cleaning the infected area and letting it heal.
Even if you don't have any issues with your gum piercing, it's still a good idea to see your dentist regularly. They can inspect the piercing site and check out the rest of your mouth to make sure your teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.