Making a statement. Feeling different. Looking cool. Defying parents. There are plenty of reasons why people choose to pierce their tongue or lip. There are also lots of reasons not to, especially when it comes to your mouth/body health – reasons highlighted in a study just published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Its authors recruited nearly 400 participants from piercing/tattoo parlors in three Italian cities and a piercing/tattoo convention in Italy to complete an anonymous questionnaire on knowledge about oral piercings and their potential complications. Of these, 70 participants – mostly adult women under age 40 – agreed to have follow-up dental exams.
Only one fifth of those examined showed “good oral hygiene condition,” with another quarter rated as “barely sufficient.” Nearly all showed signs of gum disease, either close to their piercings or throughout their mouths. More than a third had significantly receding gums.
These results weren’t just a result of piercing. While most reported brushing their teeth at least once a day, only about 20% reported flossing daily. Roughly half said they don’t clean their piercing. Seventy percent regularly smoked.
And with more than 50% of the group confirming they “constantly” played with their oral piercings by hitting them against their teeth, it’s probably no surprise that 22% also had tooth fractures.
These findings are hardly unique. Other recent studies also link tongue piercings in particular with poor gum health; damaged teeth, decay, and gum disease; and more disease-causing bacteria in the mouth.
What makes this even worse is that, at least according to the Italian study, participants widely reported not being told about such oral health risks. As Today’s RDH summarized,
Only half the people questioned were briefly informed of any effects the piercings would have on their health, and half the people were never given information or warnings about any future issues. After the piercings healed, most of the individuals ceased to clean the area specifically, which exacerbates the decay and potential damage even further. Seventy percent of the group were never given any knowledge of gingival complications, and sixty percent were never informed about more serious complications, such as tooth fracture.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complications from piercings (oral or otherwise).
One often overlooked problem is the potential release of metal ions from the jewelry itself. One 2018 study, for instance, found that these metals could play a role in the development of oral lesions.
Hyperplastic, leukoedematous, and lichenoid lesions were observed in the mucosa, as well as lesions associated with metallosis of the lip skin. Cytological smears showed the presence of particles inside the epithelial cells; the particles were found to contain aluminum, tungsten, and molybdenum. In one case requiring surgical removal of the piercing, histological examination of the tissue associated with the piece of jewelry showed the presence particles containing aluminum, iron, and tin inside multinucleated giant cells.
More, the piercings can disrupt the flow of energy along your body’s meridians, creating blockages that can affect other organs and tissues that share the same energetic pathway.
The area of the tongue most commonly pierced, for instance, is right in the center – an area associated with the stomach and spleen, according to traditional Chinese medicine. The scientific literature reports cases in which patients with a history of tongue rings suffered chronic upper GI symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Those symptoms were resolved, though, after neural therapy and acupuncture were used to restore the natural flow of energy along the meridians.
Once you stop to think about all these types of complications, oral piercings can suddenly seem a lot less cool.
Image of woman on bed from Andrea Piacquadio