What is it?

Oral piercing is a newer and popular form of body art and self expression. There are multiple areas that can be pierced such as the tongue, lips, cheeks, or the uvula (the small piece of tissue that hangs at the back of the throat). Piercing these areas are not as safe as some people would believe. The mouth is a moist environment that harbors a lot of different bacteria, making the piercings an ideal place for an infection to begin. In order to prevent infection it is important to clean the piercing daily. Most piercing stores will provide some type of cleaning solution but these normally can’t be used in the mouth. The best solution to use for oral piercings would be a warm salt water rinse or some type of antimicrobial mouthrinse.

What are the side effects?

There are also many different side effects that can appear with an oral piercing. Aside from infection, oral piercings can also cause speech problems and impact your ability to chew or eat properly. Some people have even swallowed the jewelry, which can puncture the bowel or intestine. Many people form a habit of biting or playing with the jewelry which can lead to cracked or scratched teeth, gum damage and recession, and teeth sensitivity. There may also be a need for dental restorations such as crowns and fillings due to damage from the piercing. Oral piercings can also cause uncomfortable scar tissue or allergic reactions to the site of the piercing. Piercings can also get in the way of diagnostic dental x-rays which prevent the doctor from properly seeing between the teeth when looking for cavities. Oral piercings can also cause increased salivary flow, hypersensitivity to metals, and nerve damage. It’s possible that during the procedure bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the piercing site in the mouth where it can then travel to the heart and colonize, causing heart abnormalities. It’s also possible that a nerve may be punctured causing a “numb tongue” that may be temporary or sometimes can remain permanent. This injury can affect the sense of taste or how you move your mouth. After a piercing, the tongue may swell enough to block the airway. Any of these harmful effects can happen during the piercing, soon after, or long after the procedure.

How do you take care of your piercing?

– The most important thing you can do is keep the site clean and free of any matter that may collect on the jewelry. Check the piercing after each meal to make sure that all food particles have been removed from the area.

– Minimize “clicking” the jewelry against the teeth and avoid putting stress on the piercing site. Be gentle and conscious of the jewelry’s movement when chewing and talking.

– Check the tightness of the jewelry periodically- with clean hands- to make sure that the beads have not come loose from their threads. This can help prevent you from swallowing or choking on your jewelry.

– When taking part in sports, remove the jewelry and protect your mouth with a mouthguard.

– See your dentist and maintain your normal oral health care schedule, as well as brush and floss regularly.

– Consider removing mouth jewelry before it causes a problem.

– Most importantly, contact your dentist or physician immediately with any signs of infection such as swelling, pain, fever, chills, shaking, or a red streaked appearance around the site of the piercing.