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A Few Points About Oral Piercings

Glam rock styleOral piercings have become popular in the last few years, and they are typically performed at tattoo parlors and other body modification establishments. Oral piercings can include piercings of the tongue, lips, or cheeks.

While body modification is a personal choice, Charlotte Dentistry® wants to make sure that anyone considering a piercing knows the potential consequences to dental health, and chooses the right professionals for the piercing.

Keep in mind that while tattoos and other body modifications are regulated, in many areas the sterilization procedures that these businesses use aren’t. So get a detailed explanation about sterilization from any business where you’re considering a modification BEFORE you agree to the practice. Basic sterilization procedures include using germicidal soap to clean the hands of the piercing professional and the skin of the subject being pierced (for lips or cheeks); using latex gloves and sterilized piercing instruments as required by local codes; and keeping a sanitary work area.

In addition check to see if the studio has been properly inspected according to your local regulations (they can vary by state or city) and that it has passed. It’s also not a bad idea to check online rating services like or others to see other people’s experiences with the business. (Someone who’s had a piercing go bad is likely to be VERY vocal about it.)

Why is this important? In most instances, a piercing done by a professional is safe and problem-free. But in the cases where a piercing is done improperly, the consequences can be permanent and possibly even life threatening.

So it pays to be very careful and do your research.

What can go wrong? Here are some examples:

1. Hemorrhage. Your tongue especially is very vascular, and there will likely be some bleeding during a piercing. But if a major vessel is punctured accidentally, bleeding can be profuse.

2. Nerve damage. The tongue contains dorsolateral and dorsoventral nerves, and if these are damaged during the piercing, your sense of taste or your tongue’s motor effects can be permanently changed.

3. Localized infection. Unless proper aftercare is taken, the piercing can become infected and be painful. NOTE: These infections can spread if not treated and attack other areas of the body. They can even be life-threatening.

4. Inflammation. Almost all piercings will become inflamed immediately afterward, but in some cases, the inflammation can last weeks.

5. Infectious diseases. If improper sterilization procedures are used, contaminated body fluids from previous people could lead to tetanus, hepatitis, or even HIV.

6. Cracked teeth and gum trauma. Piercing jewelry that isn’t placed properly can create stress on teeth that cause damage, and jewelry (particularly with lip or cheek piercings) can rub against the gums, causing them to recede.

7. Ludwig’s Angina. This infection causes the tongue to swell and the patient to have difficulty swallowing, breathing, and speaking. It can be life threatening.

8. Swallowed jewelry. If your jewelry gets loose you could swallow it or inhale it, causing stomach or respiratory distress.

9. Increased salivary flow and speech impediment. A tongue barbell can affect your speech and extra saliva can create discomfort or embarrassment.

Questions? Use the “Ask the Expert” feature on our website or give us a call.

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