Piercing-much like tattooing-is just one of today’s popular forms of “body art” and self-expression. Oral piercing is not a new phenomenon. In fact, history points to the Mayans, some of whom pierced their tongues to demonstrate courage and virility. The Aleuts and Eskimos sometimes pierced the lips of female infants as part of a purification ritual and the mandibular (lower) lips of boys to signify part of the passage into puberty. In some Third World countries, oral piercing are customs that continue to be practiced for religious, sexual, tribal, or marital significance.
Piercing may seem cool, daring, and totally safe because some celebrities use body piercing to display their particular style or attitude. Trendy fashion magazines and music videos will advertise it-that is until it’s no longer deemed the “in thing” and something else comes along to replace it. Piercing is no doubt growing among Western culture.
However, piercing the tongue, lips, checks, or the uvula (the tiny tissue that hangs at the back of the throat), is not as safe as some would have you believe. That’s because of your mouth’s moist environment. It’s home to huge amounts of breeding bacteria and is an ideal place for infection. If you’re thinking of about getting a piercing or if you already have one or more, there are some health risks that you should know about.
A mouth piercing can interfere with speech, chewing, or swallowing. That may seem like a mere inconvenience until you consider that it may also cause:
-Infection, pain, and swelling
-Chipped or cracked teeth
-Injuries to the gums
-Damage to fillings
-Increased salivary flow
-Hypersensitivity to metals
The harmful effects can happen during the piercing, soon after, or even long after the procedure.
An infection can quickly become life threatening if it’s not treated promptly. For example, oral piercing carries a potential risk of Endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves or tissues. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the piercing site in the mouth and travel to the heart, where it can colonize on heart abnormalities. This is a risk for people with heart conditions and in the worst cases results in death.
After a piercing, the tongue may swell. There have been reports of swelling serious enough to block the airway. And it’s very possible to puncture a nerve during a tongue piercing. If this happens, you may experience a “numb” tongue, which indicates nerve damage that is sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent. The injured nerve may affect your sense of taste, or how you move your mouth.
Just touching your mouth jewelry (tongue barbells and lip and cheek labrettes) can lead to infection. Believe it or not, people who have piercings constantly touch them-which is a perfect opportunity for bacteria from hands to enter piercing sites.
The hoop, ring, stud, and barbell shaped jewelry can also hinder your ability to talk and eat. And food particles that collect around piercing sites can lead to infection. Some people have even swallowed the jewelry, which can puncture the bowel or intestine.
Some people also develop a habit of “biting” the barbells or “playing” with the balls which can lead to cracked, scratched teeth: gum damage and recession; and sensitive teeth. Sometimes, uncomfortable, protruding scar tissue can form around the piercing site from the stress of the metal against the inside of your tooth.
However, if you already have an oral piercing here are a few tips. Contact your dentist or physician immediately with any signs of infection such as swelling, pain, fever, shaking, or red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing. Keep the site clean and free of any matter that may collect on the jewelry by using a mouthrinse after every meal. Minimize “clicking” the jewelry against teeth and avoid undue stress on the piercing site. Check the tightness of your jewelry periodically with clean hands because beads loosen on their threads. Checking can help prevent you from swallowing or choking on your jewelry.
Unfortunately, many young people with oral piercings don’t realize that these frightening side effects could happen to them. So consider removing your the mouth jewelry and let your healthy smile make your fashion statement.