Speaking out about Tongue Piercing

Your tongue is one of the most important muscles in your body, controlling your ability to speak, chew, swallow and taste. The Chinese people believe it is the window to your overall health, indicative of certain illnesses and deficiencies. So why would you take a perfectly good tongue and pierce it?

I get it. It’s a fad that many teenagers think is cool. It can be a form of parental rebellion and a means of expressing yourself. However, the downsides from a dental viewpoint are numerous and it can adversely affect your dental health.

If you’re considering getting your tongue pierced, read on before you leap.

What Are The Dangers of Tongue Piercing?

Without a doubt, oral piercing has become more mainstream. A study at one New York University revealed that 16% of females and 4% of males had their tongue pierced and 6% had problems afterward.

According to the American Dental Association piercing your tongue, cheek, lips or uvula (the tiny tissue at the back of your throat) can pose the following dangers.

1. Chipped teeth. Approximately 47% of people who have worn tongue jewelry for four or more years have chipped teeth. Fixing these teeth can be costly, because crowns, veneers and implants can be expensive. Twirling the piercing around in your mouth can lead to cracked, sensitive teeth. Piercings can also damage fillings.

2. Infection. The tongue is a breeding ground for bacteria. Put a hole in your tongue and you’re opening a door for all that bacteria to crawl into. Touching the piercing adds even more bacteria. If these bacteria spread it can lead to infection, pain and swelling, which if not treated promptly, can become life threatening. Particularly if you have a heart murmur, tongue piercing can lead to infective endocarditis, a disease caused when bacteria enters the bloodstream and infects and weakens the heart.

3. Irritation. Did you ever notice that people with tongue piercings constantly click their tongue against the barbell? This can lead to mouth ulcers from irritation which can then turn into oral cancer.

4. Gum recession. Recent studies have demonstrated that the gums inside the front of the mouth are more likely to recede if the tongue is pierced. This is caused by repeatedly pushing the piercing against the front teeth. When gums recede, the bone underneath is reabsorbed by the body. This can loosen the teeth and ultimately cause them to fall out.

5. Swelling. If your tongue swells it could block your airways, making it very difficult to breath. Or if a part of the piercing breaks off, it could lead you to choke. Dentists have seen an increase in cases of Ludwig’s angina, which is a severe infection of the mouth and jaws that causes the tongue to swell so much it inhibits breathing.

6. Allergies. It is not uncommon to become allergic to the metal in the tongue stud.

7. Drooling. Not a pretty sight. Do you know how you drool when your dentist shoots novocaine into your gums? At least that’s temporary, but not so with piercings. Your piercings can increase your saliva flow, leaving you to excessively drool.

8. Nerve damage. After you have had your tongue pierced, your tongue may be numb due to nerve damage. This can be temporary or permanent. Your nerve damaged can impair your sense of taste and even the mobility of your mouth. Damage to your tongue’s blood vessels can also cause serious blood loss.

Dentists have dental degrees and adhere to both OSHA and strict Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for sterilization and infection control. What qualifications does the piercing professional have? You can get your ears pierced at the mall! Worse yet, I have seen teenagers pierce their own tongues with needles and ice! Contaminated needles and piercing tools can put people at risk for serious infections like hepatitis and HIV.

Don’t’ think it can happen to you? Read about Cindi Reeds or a 22-year-old Israeli man who didn’t think it would happen to him either.

Call dentists old fashioned. However, tongue piercings have proven to be related to excessive bleeding, swelling, scarring, nerve damage, periodontal disease, infection and injuries to the mouth and teeth. One more thing to consider: a scar will be left in your tongue once the piercing is removed. If you decide to pierce your tongue with a “barbell” or stud, just understand that you are jeopardizing not only your oral health but your general health as well.

About The Author

Dr. Jeffrey Pass, DDS, has been in private practice since 1987 and emphasizes cosmetic, restorative, and implant dentistry. A graduate of NYU College of Dentistry, Dr. Pass practiced privately in Manhattan, NY prior to establishing South Florida Dental Care in 1993. He regularly attends continuing education classes and is a member of the American Dental Association, South Florida District Dental Association, South Broward Dental Society, and the Florida branch of The Seattle Study Club.