Oral Piercings - No More Holes


           You need oral body piercing like you need a hole in your head. As body piercing becomes more popular and divergent from traditional ear piercing, many individuals are having their tongues, lips and cheeks pierced to wear studs, rings and "barbells". Those who undergo oral piercing are exposing themselves to many risks including irritation, infection, hepatitis transmission, allergic reaction, chipped or broken teeth and hemorrhage (severe blood loss). You should also know that the people who perform body piercing are neither trained nor licensed to treat these complications.

           Unlike pierced ears or navels, oral piercing penetrates mucous membranes in your mouth sometimes exposing them through the skin as with pierced lips or cheeks. In this case epidermal (skin) and oral bacteria are interchanged between parts of your body where your immune system may not be able to handle them resulting in infection. Body piercing is often performed under conditions of dubious sterility by practitioners who are usually not licensed. Oral piercing in and of itself can lead to infection under these circumstances.

           Allergic reaction is also a concern with oral piercing. Materials used to make the various items of jewelry used in body piercing may elicit allergic reactions from your oral your mucous membrane even in situations where the same substances are not allergy inducing on the skin. In these instances, similar metals of both ear and lip rings may produce an allergic response in your mouth but not at your earlobe.

           Since oral piercing has come into vogue in recent years, there have been many clinically documented cases where lip studs, cheek rings and tongue barbells have chipped and fractured permanent teeth. The custom of persons rattling their tongue barbells against the insides of their teeth to "break the ice" and identify themselves as part of this culture at parties has resulted in many incidences of chipped teeth. Accidentally biting on a cheek ring while you are eating can fracture your teeth as well. Often patients will cause severe irritation to their cheeks in this way and also to their lips when a ring or stud is caught as they incise (bite into) their food.


A "barbell" on which teeth can easily be broken.

           By far the most immediate and serious threat to your health from oral piercing is hemorrhage of your tongue. Your tongue is a highly vascular (having blood vessels) organ. Some of those blood vessels are very large and perforating one of them when piercing your tongue can cause life threatening blood loss without rapid medical attention. Patients I have interviewed about tongue piercing report they were told at the time that the procedure was safe as long as, "You do it right in the middle." While it is true that the major blood vessels of your tongue generally run along its side, there is considerable variation between patients and it is possible to puncture a major blood vessel even at the midline. In short, oral piercing is a very risky proposition that you should think long and hard about before undertaking.


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Dr. Barry F. McArdle, D.M.D. ~ 118 Maplewood Avenue, The Captain Moses House, Suite B-7, Portsmouth, NH 03801

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