Dental Dangers of Tongue Piercing

By Dr. Jennifer Wallace

Tongue piercing is becoming increasingly trendy among the youth and many are opting for it, without actually caring to know more about the adverse effects on your dental health. Tongues are typically pierced by running a needle through the front third of the tongue, from top to bottom. The first 3 days, you will notice common after-piercing symptoms like pain, swelling, infection and an increase in the flow of saliva as the mouth adjusts to a foreign body. After that, some say the worst is over but studies say otherwise. Uncommon but life-threatening complications can occur like Ludwig’s angina. It is a bacterial infection of the floor of the mouth that causes swelling of the tissues and occurs rapidly and may block the airway or prevent swallowing of saliva.

The more common dangers include:

1. Damage to teeth. Teeth that come into contact with mouth jewelry can chip or crack. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, 47% of people wearing barbell tongue jewelry for 4 or more years had at least one chipped tooth. This can happen while talking, eating or even sleeping. Tongue piercings can eventually destroy your front teeth from the tongue bar continuously hitting or rubbing up against them. The bars will eventually wear away the enamel on your teeth, creating additional problems including extreme sensitivity associated with your teeth.

2. Gum disease. People with oral piercings — especially long-stem tongue jewelry (barbells) — have a greater risk of gum disease than those without oral piercings. The jewelry can come into contact with gum tissue causing injury as well as a recession of the gum tissue, which can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss.

3. Difficulties in daily oral functions. Tongue piercing can result in difficulty chewing swallowing food and speaking clearly. This is because the jewelry stimulates an excessive production of saliva. Temporary or permanent drooling is another consequence of increased saliva production. Taste can also be altered.

4. Bad Breath. Tongue piercings or studs can cause bad breath. Pieces of food can stick to the stud or the stud itself that may cause bacteria growth and, therefore, bad breath. Tongue studs also impede the use of tongue cleaners or scrapers.

5. Allergic reaction to metal. A hypersensitivity reaction — called allergic contact dermatitis — to the metal in the jewelry can occur in susceptible people.

6. Jewelry aspiration. Jewelry that becomes loose in the mouth can become a choking hazard and, if swallowed, can result in injury to the digestive track or lungs.

So if that didn’t convince you to stop your child from getting a tongue piercing, how about this case? Researchers at the University at Buffalo did a case study on a 26-year-old female patient who complained about a large space that had developed between her two front teeth. The patient had her tongue pierced when she was 19 and at that time she had no space between her two front teeth. From the time, this patient had played with the stud, pushing it into her two front teeth and then, as a space began, she would habitually play with the stud and push it into this new space. To repair this space this patient now needs fixed braces to push the front teeth back together.

If you are considering piercing your tongue, think again! That little stud in your tongue can cause you problems with your teeth and mouth as well as your body’s overall health.

Dr. Wallace practices on Lady’s Island at Palmetto Smiles of Beaufort and can be contacted at 843-524-7645 or though her website @ www.palmettosmilesofbeaufort.com


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