Most dental professionals discourage oral piercing because of the many risk factors that exist. Swelling, infection, pain, drooling, loss of taste, permanent numbness, scarring, fractured teeth and loss of teeth are all possible consequences of tongue piercing.
A frequent problem is the fracture of teeth. People often chip or break teeth on metal tongue studs while eating, sleeping, talking or simply chewing on the jewelry. These fractures can result in the need for root canals, crowns, or in the most severe cases, the loss of the tooth. Replacing the metal ball on the end of the barbell with a plastic ball will result in less trauma to the tooth should the ball be accidentally bitten.
Infection is also a concern. It is not uncommon for the tongue to swell when punctured, but in some cases the tongue may become infected. Typically this results in much greater swelling that can lead to discomfort, poor speech and a reduced or lost sense of taste. In some cases, swelling can be so severe as to impair eating, speaking and breathing. Your mouth has high levels of bacteria. Puncturing any part of the oral cavity can lead to oral bacteria entering the blood stream and being spread throughout the body. For people with a medical history of rheumatic fever or heart valve disease, oral bacteria circulating through the blood can lead to an infection of the heart, further damage to heart valves and the possibility of major cardiac surgery. These are life altering and life long medical problems.
If you have yet to pierce but are considering it, be sure to choose the person doing the piercing carefully. Is a fresh needle used for each piercing? If they are reusing needles, are they completely sterilizing all needles and instruments in an autoclave? Are surgical grade stainless steel barbells used to reduce the chance of allergic reactions to inferior metals?
Once the tongue has been pierced it will take 4 or more weeks to heal. At that time the jewelry may be removed for cleaning. Brush the oral jewelry at least twice a day. Use an antiseptic mouthwash after meals. Consider removing the piercing prior to eating, sleeping and strenuous activities to prevent the fracture of teeth.
Remember to brush a minimum of twice a day (and after every meal when possible), floss once a day, and see your dental professionals for regular examinations and cleanings.
If you have further questions about how to keep your mouth healthy, Dr. Mahlin would be happy to discuss them with you.