LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—People get an oral piercing as a conscious decision to change their aesthetics, but many of them are unconscious of how that decision could change their aesthetics in addition to the new jewelry.
“Oral piercings can greatly affect oral and orthodontic health,” says Dr. David Alpan, a Los Angeles orthodontic specialist.
Tongue piercings and some other types of oral piercings typically interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing at least temporarily, which are inconveniences the person often is aware of. But many side effects of piercings can be serious and long-term or permanent problems that require expensive treatment or repair.
Oral piercings can cause excessive drooling, infection, pain and swelling, chipped or cracked teeth, injuries to the gums, damage to fillings, hypersensitivity to metals, scar tissue and nerve damage.
“Some of these may happen during or soon after the piercing, but some won’t show up until long after the procedure is done and the jewelry installed,” says Dr. Alpan, whose practice Aesthetic Orthodontics also specializes in treatment of TMJ.
Most people with oral piercings develop a habit of playing with the barbell, stud or ring, which wears down or damages surrounding surfaces of the mouth. Habitual pushing of a tongue stud can cause a maxillary midline diastema, a gap between the two front teeth, like this case in the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics. This woman had to have orthodontic treatment to correct the malocclusion caused by her long-term tongue piercing.
“Patients who get an oral piercing while they have dental braces or other orthodontic appliances like Invisalign increase their risk of breakage of appliances and tooth and gum damage from contact with the stud,” says Dr. Alpan, an adult and pediatric orthodontist.
Oral piercings also pose an overall health hazard, according to the JCO. The journal says body piercings carry considerable risk of initial local and systemic infections and of later cross-infection with pathogens such as hepatitis B and C, HIV and herpes simplex viruses.
It is important to treat infections promptly when the person has an oral piercing, as infections can become life threatening if not. The American Dental Association says that oral piercing carries a potential risk of endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves or tissues. Bacteria that thrive in the mouth can enter the bloodstream via the site of the oral piercing and travel to the heart, where it can colonize on heart abnormalities. This is a serious risk for people with heart conditions.
The ADA opposes the practice of intraoral and perioral piercing because of its potential for numerous negative sequelae.
“If an oral piercing is something you are adamant about keeping or getting, talk to your orthodontist and dentist about all the risks and how you can use proper dental care to reduce potential complications,” says Dr. Alpan.