A Hole New World: The Risks Posed by Piercings

Though some people think lip and tongue piercings are trendy, there’s one thing that will never be in style: chipped teeth, which is just one of the problems that can happen when your mouth is bejeweled. If you’re considering a piercing – or if you have a teen who’s been asking for one – be aware of these side effects that can be hazardous to oral health.

  • Chipped teeth. People with piercings frequently chip their teeth on the metal in their mouths while they’re talking, eating, sleeping, or chewing. Chips damage the tooth enamel. And if the fracture goes deeper, it may require a root canal or even removal of the damaged tooth.
  • Swelling and choking. It’s not uncommon for people with piercings to experience a swollen tongue. In extreme cases, a severely swollen tongue can actually hinder or completely prevent breathing. If the jewelry comes loose, it may also become a choking hazard.
  • Gum recession. This can occur where the stud is in direct or frequent contact with the teeth or gums.
  • Infection. Any kind of puncture in your mouth can allow bacteria into your bloodstream, which can lead to infections in other parts of your body – even your heart.
  • Allergic reactions. Certain metals, such as nickel1, can cause allergic reactions. Other metals, such as surgical-grade stainless steel, are less risky.

A seven-year study of U.S. hospital emergency department visits found almost 25,000 visits related to oral piercings, primarily for infections, soft tissue puncture wounds, and from patients’ inability to remove piercings overgrown with soft tissue.2 If you do decide that a piercing is worth the risk, take good care of it. Remove the jewelry to eat, sleep, or participate in strenuous activity such as exercise. Clean the piercing with an antiseptic mouthwash after every meal, and don’t forget to brush. Plaque can build up on jewelry just as it builds up on enamel, so cleaning it with a toothbrush when you brush your teeth can help prevent bad breath and is essential for good oral health.3 Of course, the best way to keep your mouth healthy is to avoid oral piercings entirely.

1 http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/nickel-jewelry-allergy
2 Gill JB1, Karp JM, Kopycka-Kedzierawski DT. Oral piercing injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2002-2008. Pediatr Dent. 2012 Jan-Feb;34(1):56-60.
3 http://oralhealth.deltadental.com/22,Delta65

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