Body piercing has existed since ancient times and while piercings like those of Elaine Davidson of Brazil, who according to The Daily Telegraph had 6005 body piercings in 2009, are rare, the practice has been gaining popularity in the US since the 1990s among adolescents and the younger population. Oral piercing can be on the tongue, lips or cheeks. Studs, bells, rings and hoops made of various types of metals including steel, gold and synthetic materials are generally inserted into the piercings.
Another, less common, form of body modification is tongue splitting, which involves splitting the tongue front to back into two pieces using various techniques. The procedure is highly invasive and dangerous. A number of studies show that oral piercings can cause innumerable complications.
Inserting oral jewelry can cause teeth to chip, break and even shift over time. Oral piercings can also cause gums to recede along with oral infections. Accidental swallowing of jewelry has been shown to cause respiratory and digestive problems and can cause an infection if it gets embedding in any tissues internally. Serious infections including Ludwig’s angina- a severe and rapidly spreading infection in the mouth leading to a life threatening situation very fast can be caused by oral piercings. Piercings can also cause infective endocarditis which is another life threatening infection in the heart valve caused by bacteria entering the heart through the blood stream.
Tongue piercings can cause prolonged bleeding if vessels are punctured during piercings. If they are not done properly or in a sterile environment they can also lead to severe infection, inflammation, nerve damage and difficulties with speech and mastication.
The process of piercing involves a deliberate puncture wound or incision. This can cause pain, swelling and infection. The oral piercings can result in gingival injury, gum recession, teeth damage, abscesses, scar tissue and keloid formation. They can also cause increased saliva flow, difficulty in speech or eating. Pus filled and colored discharges can also result from oral piercings. Oral piercing complications are very common and can arise either during the procedure, immediately after its completion, or over the long term.
After getting a piercing the individual will experience pain and swelling for a few days. Using an alcohol free mouth rinse is advised after a piercing. To reduce risks of oral infection after piercing procedures, individuals should-
- Brush twice-daily with fluoride-containing toothpaste and a soft-bristle toothbrush;
- Floss or use interdental cleaners regularly;
- Keep piercing site clean;
- Avoid playing with piercing jewelry;
- Inspect teeth, gums, tongue and cheeks for signs of infection, including swelling, pain, tenderness or unusual discharges particularly evil smelling ones;
- Remove all jewelry before participating in any form of physical activity.
Dentists routinely see a lot of patients presenting with complications arising out of oral piercings. Visit your dentist for advice on oral piercings and if you feel you may be at risk for infections after a piercing.