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Oral Piercing: Fashion Statement or Recipe for Disaster?

May 16th is listed as "Piercing Day" so it seemed apt to post about oral piercings today. Because so many celebrities have oral piercings, it may seem like a safe or cool form of self-expression. But before you pierce your lip, cheek, tongue or uvula (that thing that hangs down in the back of your throat), here are some things you should consider:

  1. An oral piercing requires a lifetime of constant care and upkeep. Some problems occur at the time of your piercing or shortly thereafter; others may show up much later
  2. No matter how well it is done, your piercing will be traumatic to the tissue involved and cause it to swell. A swollen tongue or uvula may block your airway and make it hard or impossible for you to breathe. Swelling may also interfere with your speech, chewing, swallowing and eating. Until your mouth gets used to the presence of your oral jewelry, it reacts similarly to when you eat and produces more saliva. You may even drool because of the excess saliva!
  3. Remember that many places that do oral piercings probably do not have medical training in anatomy. If a nerve is hit during the piercing procedure you may end up with numbness. Sometimes this numbness will go away on its own, but it may be permanent. There is no way to tell early on which way yours will go. Your sense of taste could also be affected. Again, this may be temporary or permanent. If a blood vessel is in the path of the piercing, you may lose a lot of blood. Is the place doing your piercing equipped to deal with a medical emergency like this? It’s something to ask before you sit down in the chair.
  4. Another area of concern is infection. Any infection can become life threatening if it is not treated soon enough. Your mouth is a hotbed of bacteria. Oral bacteria can infect the piercing site causing it to be painful and swollen. If bacteria enter your bloodstream through the piercing site, the infection can become much more serious. If the bacteria reach your heart, they can infect your heart valves and heart tissue.
  5. You may also discover that you have a hypersensitivity or allergy to the metals used in jewelry or studs. Symptoms can range from an itchy feeling that won’t go away to hives and swollen airways or from localized redness to severe swelling.
  6. Oral jewelry is a choking hazard if it should come apart or loosen up.
  7. Oral jewelry often chips or cracks your teeth or fillings. This is particularly true of tongue studs that have longer bars. It’s easy to trap the ball end of the jewelry between your teeth while chewing. One study found that 50% of the people who had an oral piercing had at least one chipped tooth in their mouth. The metal jewelry can also block dental x-rays that may be needed to diagnose the extent of your tooth problem.
  8. Jewelry rubbing against your gums can cause the gum to pull away from the tooth. The rubbing may occur from normal mouth movements associated with eating or speaking or you may develop it as a habit.  Receded gums lead to cold sensitivity, an increased risk of cavities and higher risk for other forms of gum disease. Studies have shown that people with oral piercings are up to seven times more likely to have this problem than those without piercings.

Bottom line, the choice is yours, but be sure to weigh all the risks involved before making that choice. If you do decide to have a piercing, seeing your dentist regularly becomes even more important. If you do have a problem, you want to find it as early as possible so that you can avoid the more involved and expensive procedures. Dr. Jennifer Robb is accepting new patients. Call 440-960-1940 or use the contact form at www.drjrobb.com You can also ask Dr. Robb questions on facebook at www.facebook.com/drjenniferrobb