The risks of oral piercings

Illustration of tongue piercing
Oral piercings can lead to a number of oral health problems. Be sure to understand the risks before getting one!

Oral piercings have been around for a very long time and will most likely remain popular for years to come. Classified as any piercing in the lip, tongue, or cheek area, this trend encompasses a wide variety of styles and materials. Unfortunately, safety is often not the highest priority when evaluating oral piercings, and they can negatively affect your dental health in a few significant ways. Whether you’ve already had it done or are still considering it, it’s important to understand the complications that can arise with oral piercings and how to care for the piercing if you don’t want to remove it.

Complications that can arise from oral piercings

Here are just a few of the issues that might result if you decide to pierce your lip, cheek, or tongue:

  • Gum recession. Gum tissue is very vulnerable to hard jewelry and can easily be damaged. This is probably the most likely complication of an oral piercing. In fact, one study showed that people with tongue piercings were 11 times more likely to have gum recession! Since the piercing is in repeated contact with gum tissue, recession is very likely, and it doesn’t take much time! Another study reported on three cases of dental issues due to oral piercings, and each patient was in their twenties!¬† Not only is advanced gum infection (periodontitis) a possibility after an oral piercing, but tooth loss can also happen as the gums recede from the consistent injury.
  • Cracked/chipped teeth.¬†After gum recession, cracked teeth is the greatest risk. It is no surprise that jewelry knocking against your teeth can cause them to break. Dental work such as fillings and crowns can be damaged, as well.
  • Infection. There are millions of bacteria living in your mouth, and getting a piercing leaves the wound site vulnerable to infection.
  • Teeth shifting. As the jewelry presses up against the back of the teeth, they will begin to move over time and become misaligned. While this happens slowly, after a few years it could very easily result in significant shifts. The process is similar to how thumb-sucking can lead to malocclusions in children.

What can be done to minimize the risks?

Our advice is to simply remove the oral piercing. Your mouth was simply not intended to be exposed to a foreign object for an extended period of time. If your piercing comes into contact with your gums, teeth, palate or floor of your mouth, understand that you are at higher risk of experiencing complications.

If you still want to keep your piercing, here are some things you can do to ensure cleanliness and minimize the risk of complications:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly when handling it, and make sure that the piece of jewelry is always tightly secured.
  2. Remove the piercing before playing sports, and always wear a mouthguard to protect the piercing site.
  3. If your piercing is metal, ensure that it is surgical grade.
  4. Take extra care to maintain your oral hygiene regimen, as bacteria in the piercing site can easily turn into an infection.

While many trends come and go quickly, oral piercing is one that shows no signs of decline. Because the practice remains so popular, consistent education about its effects on dental health is necessary. If you already have a piercing on your lip, cheek, or tongue, learning how to care for it and notice warning signs should be a priority. In addition, only dental professionals can examine the area thoroughly to check for problems, so be sure to maintain your bi-annual appointments! If you have an oral piercing and are concerned about the state of your teeth and gums, don’t hesitate to call our office as immediate treatment might be necessary.