The different piercings of body tissue have been a common form of self-expression for centuries. National dental lecturer and oral biologist Betsy Reynolds recently presented a lecture about it, from which I had the pleasure of gaining valuable information about the clinical considerations that must be taken when a patient chooses to decorate their body with an orofacial piercing. Here's what you should know about piercings near your mouth:
Different Orofacial Piercings
Different piercings can be considered orofacial, and one of the most common areas is the tongue. Other facial landmarks that are potential sites for piercing include the lip, cheek, around your chin and the uvula. Each location can have a single-hole piercing or multiple piercings placed, depending on the individual's desired end-appearance. Because the average piercing takes six to eight weeks to form an initial healing layer, though, it's important that you choose a reputable parlor. The Association of Professional Piercers is a great reference when choosing one.
Various types of metals are used in different piercings. Surgical-grade stainless steel is said to be the most compatible with body tissue when used as a piercing. Nonetheless, plastic, acrylic resin, solid gold or palladium can also be chosen to fabricate the barbells, studs and rings that fill the holes created by the piercer's (sterile) needle. Similarly, the jewelry you choose should be chosen with just as much care; avoid pieces that are scratched, worn, rough or dull in appearance.
Effects of Piercings on Teeth, Tissue and Restorations
Orofacial piercings can have a profound effect on existing teeth, oral tissues and restorations. The metal or hard plastics used in piercing jewelry can unnecessarily wear on the teeth and restorations, causing fractures, chips or abrasion. Oral tissues can also be affected when piercings come near or go through the glands, nerves and blood vessels that support the head and neck. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), piercings and jewelry in your mouth can lead to nerve damage, allergic reactions, infections and damage to teeth, gums and fillings if done incorrectly. Keep in mind nerve damage often affects your sense of taste or how you move your mouth.
Piercings pose a great risk for infection and scarring as well, when proper care techniques aren't followed. It's therefore not encouraged for individuals until their late-teen years because of the cellular healing cycle that takes place when the body is still growing. The scars that can result from a piercing vary in type, but it's important to note that scarring of any kind is not a natural side effect of a healthy piercing.
How to Care for Your Oral and Facial Piercing
After getting pierced, you're responsible for the cleaning and care of the area. This is another reason why piercing is not recommended for individuals younger than 15. The safety and effectiveness of a piercing is dependent upon diligent aftercare, and regular handwashing is the first step. Warm, soapy water must be used to remove germs and residue from fingers prior to the removal of piercing jewelry. During the first two weeks, the jewelry must be cleaned at least twice every day.
If the piercing is indeed within or around the mouth, use a germ-reducing toothpaste and bactericidal rinse to cleanse the area after each meal – or at least twice daily. Mayo Clinic suggests using a new, soft-bristled toothbrush and an antiseptic mouthwash like Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield™ after every meal to avoid infection and bacteria. Soft bristles, coupled with antibacterial toothpaste, allow for a gentle but effective removal of the germs and food debris that can cause infection in a fresh piercing.
Orofacial options present a new oral health challenge to those who choose to pursue piercing, but with the proper education and guidance from your dental professional, you can decrease the potential for problems. Through the use of quality products and diligent homecare, the healing time can be reduced so you can remain in good health while expressing yourself.