The Dangers of Oral Piercings


Ann Clark, RDH

Oral Piercings
Although attractive to some, tongue, lip, and cheek piercings have a number of health related risks associated with them.  One of the biggest dangers of mouth piercings is the damage to the teeth that can come from bumping or rubbing against the piercing.  There is also a fairly high risk of infection to this area from bacteria that can get trapped.
Dangers of Oral Piercings
   *Infection – Risk of this is increased due to the new wound created.  The array of bacteria that live in the mouth plus the addition of bacteria from handling the jewelry.
   *Transmission of Disease – Oral piercing poses increased risk of the herpes simplex virus and hepatitis B or C.
   *Endocarditis – The piercing site poses risk for mouth bacteria to enter the bloodstream and lead to developing endocarditis–an inflammation of the heart or its valves–in certain people with underlying (many times asymptomatic or undiagnosed) heart issues.
   *Nerve Damage/ prolonged bleeding – Numbness or loss of sensation at the piercing site or movement problems can occur if the nerves are damaged. If blood vessels are punctured, prolonged bleeding can occur.  Tongue swelling following piercing can be severe enough to block the airway and make breathing difficult.
   *Gum Disease – Piercings, especially involving longer jewelry, like barbells, have a greater chance toward this disease.  The jewelry can come into contact with gum tissue causing tissue recession, an injury leading to loss of teeth.
   *Damage to Teeth – Teeth contacting the jewelry can chip, crack, or wear away.  One study from a dental journal reported 47% of barbell wearers for 4+ years had at least one chipped tooth.
Chipped Anterior
   *Difficulty in daily functions – tongue piercings can result in problems with swallowing, chewing food, and clear speech.  This occurs from the jewelry stimulating an excessive production of saliva.  Taste can also be altered.
   *Allergic Reaction – We call metal hypersensitivity Allergic Contact Dermatitis, which can occurring in susceptible people.
   *Jewelry Aspiration – If jewelry becomes loose in the mouth it poses a possible choking hazard if swallowed causing issue to the digestive tract or lungs.
If oral piercings are still for you, please consider:
-find a recommended studio
-Visit the studio first and ask about hospital-grade autoclaves to sterilize, or use of disposable instruments.  Are disposable gloves used?
-Ask to see a health certificate.
-Are instruments kept in sterilized packages?
-Are employees vaccinated against Hep-B?
-Ask many questions, the staff should be willing to respond
Tongue Ring
WARNING SIGNS!! (Consult your dentist if any of these occur)
-yellow/green discharge (normal is clear or white)
-scarring or thickened tissue build up darkening the piercing site
– an abscess (pimple) at the piercing site
-bleeding or tearing after the piercing
-a resting low-grade fever
   American Dental Association: “Oral Piercing and Health”
   Academy of General Dentistry: “What is oral piercing”

Oral Piercings


Lindsay Whitlock RDH



  • Body art or oral piercings originally began as a sign of distinction, religious acts and sacrifice.
  • This culture is traced back to the Mayans who pierced their tongues to demonstrate courage and virility.
  • In purification rituals Eskimos, pierced the lips of infants.
  • As passage into puberty Aleuts pierced the mandibular lips of boys.
  • In Southern India, the tongue was pierced with a skewer to take a vow of silence.
  • In history, oral jewelry such as stones, bones, ivory, and adorned wooden disks are used as tribal influence for those in Ethiopia and Brazil (The Perils).
  • In several third world countries body art is still a practiced custom.
  • Today, body art and oral jewelry have become a huge phenomenon in the western culture as a compulsive tendency to be different.



  • Infection, Swelling, Pain: The oral cavity is a damp, warm environment, which houses millions of bacteria. An infection can quickly become life threatening; it’s a possibility for the piercing to cause the tongue to swell, potentially blocking one’s airway.
  • Damage To Gums, Teeth, Fillings: A common habit of biting the oral piercing can injure one’s gums, chip or injure teeth or a filling.
  • Nerve Damage: Following a piercing, one may experience a numb tongue, which is caused by temporary or permanent never damage. The injured nerve may affect how one moves their mouth, and sense of taste. Damage to the tongue’s blood vessels can cause serious loss of blood.
  • Hypersensitivity To Metals: Allergic reactions at the piercing location is common.
  • Excessive Drooling: Oral piercing can greatly increase saliva production
  • Dental Appointment Difficulties: Oral piercings/jewelry can interfere with dental care by blocking X-rays.



  • Contact your dentist or physician immediately if you have any signs of infection—swelling, pain, fever, chills, shaking or a red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing.
  • Keep the piercing site clean and free of any matter that may collect on the jewelry by using a mouth rinse after every meal.
  • Try to avoid clicking the jewelry against teeth and avoid stress on the piercing. Be gentle and aware of the jewelry’s movement when talking and chewing.
  • Check the tightness of your jewelry periodically (with clean hands). This can help prevent you from swallowing or choking if the jewelry becomes dislodged.
  • When taking part in sports, remove the jewelry and protect your mouth with a mouthguard.
  • See your dentist regularly, and remember to brush twice a day and floss daily.



Works Cited

American Dental Association. Oral Health Topics: Tongue Piercing and Tongue Splitting. Amended. October 2004. Retrieved 30 April 2013. Body piercing Statistics. (2012). Retrieved from Chimenos-Küstner.E. (2003). Appearance and culture: oral pathology associated with certain “fashions” (tattoos, piercings, etc.). retrieved from

Ford CA, Bearman PS, Moody J JAMA. Foregone health care among adolescents.1999 Dec 15; 282(23):2227-34. Retrieved from

Francesco Inchingolo, Marco Tatullo, Fabio M. Abenavoli, Massimo Marrelli, Alessio D.             Inchingolo, Antonio Palladino,Angelo M. Inchingolo, and Gianna Dipalma. Oral            Piercing and Oral Diseases: A Short Time Retrospective Study. Published 2011 October    18. Retrieved 30 April 2013.

Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff. Fewer adults visiting the dentist. Updated 13 March 2013.     Retrieved 30 April 2013.

Oral Piercings. Retrieved from

The Perils of Oral Piercing Retrieved from 26/issue-3/feature/the-perils-of-oral-piercing.html

Wilkins, E. M. 2011. Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist. Philidelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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