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Metal Mouth: Knowing the Risks of Oral Piercings

So, you’ve decided to get your [insert tongue, lip, cheek here] pierced. Over the last couple of decades oral piercings have become more common and more accepted in our culture. It’s not shocking to see a sudden flash of metal when our co-worker is giving a monthly report, or for the local barista to be sporting a lip ring while getting our morning latte. While it’s great that we’ve become more accustomed and welcoming to these growing trends, it’s still important to know the risks and proper care when considering this bold fashion statement. Installation, home care, risks and long term effects are all important areas to look into before making a commitment to an oral piercing.

One of the most common risks of getting a piercing is typically infection. A piercing creates an open wound in the mouth, and as we all know, the mouth carries a large amount of bacteria. To avoid infection during the healing process, which can take between one and two months, it is important to remember to brush your teeth between meals, and to use mouthwash, such as Listerine, often in order to kill off any bacteria. Also, even though it can be tempting to touch a new piercing, keep touching with your hands to a minimum. If you must touch the piercing, remember to wash your hands before. Signs of infection can include prolonged redness, swelling or pain.

Another health risk created by an oral piercing is nerve damage, or prolonged bleeding.  Some studios have a trans-dermal illumination device, which can locate nerves and vessels near the piercing site, but more than likely the one you visit will not. If a nerve is damaged, it can cause temporary or permanent loss of sensation or difficulty with mobility of the tongue. If numbness occurs, see your dentist immediately.

Other common problems that come with oral piercings, especially a tongue piercing, are damage to teeth and difficulty with typical oral functions such as chewing and speaking clearly. Unfortunately, I see many patients who have gotten tongue piercings with cracked or chipped teeth. There’s no real way to avoid this completely, so talk at your own risk.

If you’ve read through the risks and are still positive that you’re going to take the plunge with a piercing, here are some other helpful tips for home care, and a few important questions to ask when researching piercing studios:

1.    I’ll repeat what I said before, because it’s the most important when it comes to avoiding infection—Rinse your mouth as frequently as possible. You can use mouthwash a couple of times a day – after those couple times, use warm water with salt throughout the rest of the day.

2.    Avoid alcohol, and all tobacco products.

3.    Stick with soft foods that aren’t too spicy for the first couple weeks of healing.

4.    Assuming you will (hopefully) research a few piercing studios and not just pop into the first one you see, make sure to ask about their instruments, glove policy, and sterilization. You want all the needles and jewelry in sterilized packaging, which they should be able to show you.

5.    Make sure the studio has up-to-standard health certificates.

There you have it! If you have concerns once you get your new piercing, never hesitate to call or visit your dentist.


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