Piercing the tongue, lip, or cheek — Is this an innocent teenage fad of fashion and self expression or a prelude to oral health problems? Before piercing this area of your anatomy, it is wise to have a complete understanding of the health-related risks. If you still wish to go through with the procedure, consider what to look for in an oral piercing studio and learn how to care for the pierced area.

What health risks are associated with oral piercings?

There are numerous potential risks. Among them:

Infection — There’s a risk of infection associated with oral piercing due to the wound created, the vast amount of bacteria in the mouth, and the introduction of additional bacteria from handling the jewelry.

Transmission of diseases — Oral piercing is a potential risk factor for the transmission of herpes simplex virus and hepatitis B and C.

Endocarditis — Because of the wound created by the piercing, there’s a chance that bacteria could enter the bloodstream and lead to the development of endocarditis — an inflammation of the heart or its valves — in certain people with heart health problems.

Nerve damage/prolonged bleeding — Numbness or loss of sensation at the site of the piercing or movement problems (for pierced tongues) can occur if nerves have been 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. An increase in salivary flow – stimulated by the jewelry – might result in temporary or permanent drooling.

Gum disease — People with oral piercings – especially long-stem tongue jewelry (barbells) – have a greater risk of gum disease than those without oral piercings. The jewelry can come into contact with gum tissue causing injury as well as a recession of the gum tissue – which can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss.

Damage to teeth — Teeth that come into contact with mouth jewelry can chip or crack. One study in a dental journal reported that 47 percent of people wearing barbell tongue jewelry for four or more years had at least one chipped tooth.

Difficulties in daily oral functions — Tongue piercing can result in difficulty chewing and swallowing food, and speaking clearly. This is because the jewelry stimulates an excessive production of saliva. As noted above, temporary or permanent drooling is another consequence. Taste can also be altered.

Allergic reaction to metal — A hypersensitivity reaction – an allergic contact dermatitis – to the metal in the jewelry can occur in susceptible people.

Jewelry aspiration — Jewelry that becomes loose in the mouth can become a choking hazard and, if swallowed, can result in injury to the digestive tract or lungs.

What should I look for in an oral piercing studio?

If you have decided to go through with the oral piercing procedure, here’s what to look for:

  • Ask friends who have had their tongue, lips, or cheeks pierced – and have suffered no ill consequences – to recommend the name of the studio they visited.
  • Visit the studio. Ask to look at the studio’s photo portfolio.
  • Ask to see the studio’s health certificates.
  • Does the studio have a clean appearance, especially the area where the piercing is done? Ask if they use hospital-grade autoclaves for sterilization and/or use disposable instruments. Does the staff use disposable gloves?
  • Are all the needles, as well as the studs, hoops, and barbells, kept in sterilized packaging?
  • Are all staff involved in the piercings vaccinated against hepatitis B? They should be; ask.
  • Staff should be friendly and willing to answer all of your questions.

What can I do at home to best care for my new oral piercing?

A pierced tongue can take four to six weeks to heal. Pierced lips take between one and two months to heal. During this healing period, here’s what you should do:

  • Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and hard and sticky foods.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco-based products.
  • Brush after every meal and rinse with a mouthwash, such as Listerine®.
  • Rinse your mouth frequently with warm salt water.
  • Eat soft foods. Consult your dentist about taking vitamins to promote faster healing.
  • Make an appointment with your dentist if you suspect a problem or have a concern. It is critical for dentists to check your teeth, gums, tongue, and soft tissues for early signs of any problems.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/8/2011...#11268