Throughout history, humans have expressed themselves through body art, whether it be for spiritual, social, or purely aesthetic reasons. In the US, one of the most prevalent forms of body art is piercing. Most piercings are in the ear, but a significant percentage of these piercings are oral (in the lip, tongue, or another part of the mouth). If you're thinking about getting an oral piercing, you may be wondering about the relationship between oral piercings and oral health. If you already have an oral piercing, you may want to know more about how you can maintain proper care. Either way, keep reading because we're about to throw some helpful facts and advice your way that you won't be able to poke a hole through.
Oral Piercing Risks and Proper Oral Hygiene
What are Oral Piercings?
Oral piercings are holes poked anywhere in the tongue, lips, or cheeks to hold jewelry. Like with pierced ears, the jewelry used in oral piercings can come in various styles – like rings, barbells, and studs. Some adventurous body modifiers even pierce the back of their throats. That may sound particularly risky, and that's because it is. The American Dental Association advises against all oral and perioral piercing due to negative health risks.
If you're considering a piercing in the lip, tongue, or cheek, we recommend that you consult your dental professional before having the procedure done.
What are the Different Risks Involved with Oral Piercings?
Some of the potential side effects you may experience with an oral piercing include:
- Your mouth contains bacteria. When bacteria gets into a piercing, it can lead to infection. You're at the highest risk of infection immediately after getting the piercing before the hole has healed. Touching the jewelry with your hand, using tobacco products, and putting other objects in your mouth can increase your risk of infection.
Potentially Life-Threatening Diseases
- According to the Cleveland Clinic, piercings with unsanitary needles can increase the risk of contracting Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
- Piercings can allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart, increasing the risk of endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves or tissues).
Chipped or Cracked Teeth
- Another potential impact of oral piercings on dental health is that the jewelry in your mouth can chip and fracture your teeth. If you have crowns or caps, they may be particularly vulnerable to damage. Learn what to do about a broken tooth.
Injury to the Gums
- Jewelry can also harm your soft gum tissue and cause your gums to recede. Recessed gums make the roots of your teeth more vulnerable to decay and periodontal disease.
- If you have a blood vessel that's punctured when you get your piercing, it can result in difficult-to-control bleeding and severe blood loss.
Pain and Swelling
- Pain and swelling are common side effects of oral piercings. In extreme cases, your swelling could close off your airway, making it difficult to breathe. If you are experiencing pain or swelling, don't hesitate to consult with your dentist or physician.
Interference with Normal Oral Function
- In addition to making it more challenging to speak and pronounce words correctly, jewelry in the mouth can cause excessive saliva flow and cause problems with chewing and swallowing.
How Long do Oral Piercings Last?
By practicing good oral hygiene and keeping your mouth free from infection, your oral piercing could last a lifetime. Just be sure to see your dental professional at the first sign of any pain or problems. But remember that even with the most obsessive oral care, damage to teeth and potential ingestion of loose jewelry is always possible. The best way for you to avoid any oral piercing problems is to avoid getting one at all.
How to Care for an Oral Piercing
If you're still planning on getting an oral piercing, be sure to see a trained professional who uses sterile instruments. By going to a professional who prioritizes cleanliness, you'll be less likely to get an infection or a disease.
Stay away from smoking and chewing tobacco and avoid compulsive habits that could infect your piercing, like:
- Playing with or rotating your jewelry.
- Chewing on your fingernails.
- Putting a pen or a pencil in your mouth.
- Placing the temple tips of your glasses in your mouth as you think pensively about the state of the world.
- Putting any other objects in your mouth that may harbor bacteria.
Once your piercing has healed, be sure to remove your jewelry whenever you are eating or sleeping. If you play any sports or are involved in any other physical activities, it's essential to remove your jewelry as well.
If you already have a piercing or are still interested in getting one despite potential risks, aftercare will be of the utmost importance for you to maintain a healthy mouth. Practice good oral hygiene with particular attention paid to your jewelry and your piercing. Brush at least twice a day. Floss or clean between your teeth with interdental brushes or water flossers at least once a day, and use antimicrobial mouth rinses and tongue scrapers (if you have a tongue piercing, remove the jewelry before using a scraper, and only use one after the hole has healed). Be sure to see your dental professional for regular cleanings – not only to keep your teeth pearly white and bacteria-free but also to check your piercing and the health of your surrounding teeth and gums.
We don't recommend getting an oral piercing, but we respect your ability to assess the risk in a meaningful way for you. We wish you the very best of oral health no matter what you decide. If you go ahead and get some bling in your mouth, we hope your decision makes you smile.
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.