Oral Piercings

The Risks

If you are considering an oral piercing, you should be aware of possible consequences. Oral piercings—such as piercing the tongue, lips, cheeks, or uvula—can lead to a number of problems:

  • Infection, pain and swelling
  • Chipped teeth
  • Gum injuries
  • Damage to fillings
  • Drooling and increased salivary flow
  • Scar tissue
  • Nerve damage
  • Sensitivity to metals

These harmful effects can occur during the procedure or long after.

Infections, if left untreated, can be life threatening. Oral piercings can lead to inflammation of the heart valves or tissue, called endocarditis. Bacteria enters the bloodstream through the piercing site and then move to the heart and begin to colonize. Endocarditis can be fatal.

The tongue can swell after a piercing and can be serious enough to block the airway. It is also possible to puncture a nerve during tongue piercing, resulting in a “numb” tongue. This can lead to permanent loss of the sense of taste. Serious blood loss is also a danger during an oral piercing.

After the piercing, the jewelry carries its own risks. Just touching the jewelry can lead to infection. The jewelry can also cause problems when you are trying to talk or eat. Food particles around the piercing site can cause infection, and accidentally swallowing the jewelry could cause you to choke or can puncture your bowel or intestine.

Biting or chewing on the jewelry can crack or scratch your teeth, damage your gums, and cause sensitivity. Scar tissue that forms around the piercing can be uncomfortable. The jewelry can sometimes cause allergic reactions, or can get in the way of dental x-rays.

Your Responsibility

If you already have a piercing, there are important things you can do protect your teeth:

  • If you experience swelling, pain, fever, chills, shaking or a red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing, contact your dentist or physician immediately. You may have an infection.
  • Use a mouthrinse after every meal to keep the piercing site clean.
  • Be aware of the jewelry’s movement when talking or chewing. Avoid making contact between the jewelry and your teeth and try not to cause stress to the piercing site.
  • With clean hands, check the tightness of the jewelry periodically. Loose jewelry can lead to swallowing or choking.
  • Remove the jewelry and wear a mouthguard when participating in sports.
  • Continue to brush and floss and visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
  • Consider the best method of preventing future problems—remove the jewelry permanently.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether oral piercings are worth the risk. Carefully weigh the benefits against the risks before making a decision.