woman reading about tooth piercings

Tooth Piercing Truths

Tooth piercing, tooth gems, and other oral jewelry have become a trendy mode for self-expression. A sparkle in your mouth may look cool, but the potential risks to your oral health make the practice one that is discouraged by dental professionals.

Tooth Jewelry: Not the Hole Story

A tooth piercing isn't really a hole through your tooth, but it can involve changes to your tooth enamel. Tooth jewelry is attached during a cosmetic procedure in which a jewel, semiprecious stone or metal fixture is affixed to the tooth surface. It can be cemented into the tooth, glued on temporarily or even made removable with a tiny magnet.

Tooth gems may seem new and flashy, but they've been glued and drilled on for thousands of years, primarily for religious or ritual purposes. The British Dental Association Museum has a Mayan tooth in its collection whose green jade inlay dates from 300 to 900 CE. Today, celebrities and others sport jewels and designer symbols as a fashion statement.

How Is a Tooth Piercing Placed?

Tooth gems are most commonly placed on the anterior, or front teeth. The tooth enamel must be prepped or conditioned prior to placement, and this preparation will often permanently change the tooth surface. A professional piercer is not trained in dentistry, so these changes can be dangerous for your long-term oral health.

Decay and impaired toothbrushing is also a risk. Some other tooth decorations like grills and gap jewelry are removable but can trap plaque and food debris while in the mouth, explains the American Dental Association.

Potential Complications

Just like any other body piercing, a tooth piercing should only be performed by a trained professional in a clean, sterile establishment. Some tooth gem companies advertise that the procedure can be performed by your dentist. This would be safer than having your teeth worked on in a piercing shop, but you should be prepared for your dental professional to refuse.

Only someone with a healthy mouth and good oral hygiene practices should consider oral jewelry since it can pose some serious risks:

  • Chipped, eroded or damaged adjacent teeth
  • Oral tissue infections and scarring
  • Irritation from metal allergies
  • Accumulation of plaque around the tooth gems or piercings
  • Gum inflammation around jewelry
  • Injuries to soft tissue if a piercing is dislodged or ripped out
  • Enamel abrasion, especially with movable and removable jewelry

Stick to the Ears (and Nose and Eyebrows)

Dental patients seeking any oral piercings or tooth jewelry should carefully research a piercing artist's experience, their infection control practices and the typical aftercare instructions. Before you consider a tongue piercing, grills, a tooth gem or any other jewelry that will affect your oral health, ask your dentist for their opinion of the risks over time. You might decide to go for a belly button ring instead!

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