The Dangers of Tongue Piercing

These days, it’s cool for teenagers to flash a bit of silver or gold in their mouth. But the metal you see is not from braces, crowns, or fillings, but from tongue piercing jewelry. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) reports that more teenagers are getting their tongues pierced. As they do, more dentists are seeing problems related to the procedure. If you’re thinking about getting your tongue pierced, you should know that many people who have undergone this procedure experience pain, swelling, taste loss, numbness, and drooling. Of course, that’s only a short list of the problems associated with tongue piercing.

The Risks With Tongue Piercing
Your tongue is used for eating, talking, chewing, and swallowing. Once you perform these activities with jewelry on your tongue, you’re likely to fracture or chip the enamel on your teeth. This kind of damage can eventually send you to the dentist for fillings, crowns, root canals, or teeth extraction. If you don’t damage your teeth, you may cut or puncture the interior of your mouth. Since your tongue may repeatedly rub against the same area, you may even develop ulcers in your mouth, which when left untreated, can turn into pre-cancerous lesions. Often, these are only caught during an oral cancer screening when you visit your dentist for a check-up.

Of all the problems associated with piercing, however, infection is the most troublesome for people. The tongue is covered with bacteria, and when you pierce, that bacteria can get in the tissue in your tongue and your blood. Both of these can cause serious infections. Unfortunately, you may not be aware of any problem since the symptoms of infection, such as swelling, are similar to the aftereffects of piercing.

Even if you don’t catch an infection immediately after the piercing, you may have exposed yourself to other illnesses. Dentists are reporting a rise in cases of Ludwig’s angina, a severe infection of the floor of the mouth and jaws, in patients who underwent tongue piercing. When Ludwig’s angina occurs, your tongue may swell so much that it inhibits your ability to breathe. Another condition afflicting patients with pierced tongues is endocarditis, a disease caused when bacteria enters the bloodstream and infects and weakens the heart valves.

Another problem that concerns the AGD is that most body piercers are unlicensed and are not members of the medical profession. Because of this, there are few standards for them to follow. They may not sterilize their equipment and may even reuse needles to minimize their cost. Without sterilized equipment, piercing may put you at risk for serious infections, like Hepatitis and HIV.

Taking Care of Your Tongue
If you are set on having your tongue pierced, the AGD recommends a few guidelines to avoid complications. Choose a piercing professional who has a good reputation. Regulations vary in each state, so ask the person performing the piercing about risks, side effects, and other concerns. Make sure that they use a sterilized needle and that all of their instruments are sanitized in an autoclave. If you don’t feel comfortable with what the piercing professional is doing, don’t be afraid to go somewhere else.

Before you get your tongue pierced, you will be able to select a starter barbell. Make sure you choose one made of surgical grade stainless steel. That way, you won’t have an allergic reaction to the jewelry metal, which can complicate the procedure.

Once your tongue is pierced, the AGD recommends that you don’t touch the piercing with your fingers since this can cause infection. Your tongue should heal in three to four weeks and after that time, if there are no complications, you can remove the jewelry for brief amounts of time. You may even want to replace the starter barbell in your tongue with a smaller barbell, which will be easier on your teeth. If you see any sign of infection, see your dentist immediately.

If you already have a pierced tongue, the AGD advises you to take good care of your mouth. Always remove the jewelry every time you eat or sleep to avoid damaging your teeth and the tissues in your mouth. Some piercing parlors sell plugs that can be placed in the hole when you remove the jewelry to protect the piercing. You should clean the piercing with antiseptic mouthwash after every meal and brush the jewelry to remove plaque. You should also see a dentist regularly to make sure your tongue and teeth are and stay healthy.