Posted on 07/15/2014 · Posted in Health Information from Affiliated Dentists

Basics of Body Piercing

Body piercing is a form of body modification, much like tattoos or plastic/cosmetic surgery. And like tattoos or plastic/cosmetic surgery, the reasons to do body piercing or not to do it vary. Some people get piercings for religious or spiritual reason. Sometimes its for aesthetic reasons or self-expression. In certain cases the piercings adds to sensual and sexual pleasure. Body piercing may be done as a way to conform to one’s culture or to rebel against it. Some forms of piercings remain controversial, particularly when applied to youth. The display or placement of piercings have been restricted by schools, employers and religious groups.

Ear and nose piercings have been particularly widespread and well represented in historical documentations and grave goods. The oldest mummified remains ever discovered were wearing earrings. This puts the practice of ear piercing dating back more than 5,000 year ago. Nose piercing is documented as far back as 1500 BC. These sorts of piercings have been found in global documentations, mummies and grave artifacts whereas lip and tongue piercings were historically found in African and American tribal cultures. The practice of body piercing has waxed and waned in Western Culture but has experienced an increase in popularity since World War II. Sites other than ears and noses, such as facial piercings, have began gaining popularity in the 1970’s and spread to the mainstream in the 1990’s.

With facial piercings gaining mainstream status, it’s important to look at the permanent implications and oral health concerns of these practices.

Popular Facial Piercings

the Madonna and Spider/Viper Bite lip piercings.

The Madonna and Spider/Viper Bite lip piercings.

Did you know there are 15 different ways you can pierce your lip?

These piercings are broken into 2 categories: the Standard Lip Piercing and the Bite Lip Piercing.

The Standard Lip Piercing is a single piercing done on or around the lip usually adorned with a captive bead ring or a labret stud. There are 8 variations of this kind of piercing including the Monroe, the Madonna and the Labret.

The Bite Lip Piercing is when a person has either 2 or 4 piercings done symmetrically on or around the lip. There are 5 variations of the 2 Bite piercings and 2 of the 4 Bite piercings. For example, the Snake Bite Lip Piercing is a pair of piercings on each side of the lower lip. The Canine Bites Piercing is a pair of piercings on each side of both the upper and lower lips.

Tongue piercings are another popular method of body modification. There are roughly 5 ways the tongue can be pierced, with several variations within each way. The most common is the Mid-line Piercing, where a bar is placed vertically in the middle of the tongue just in front of the frenulum (the connecting oral tissue under the tongue).

Then there are the cheek piercings. The most common variation of this piercing is through the cheek into the oral cavity. These are usually referred to as Dimple Piercings. Cheek piercings are primarily a contemporary body modification and has not yet been found among historical body modifications.

What Are The Lingering Health Effects of Facial Piercings?

Naturally, there are a myriad of concerns when getting a facial piercing. Lip, tongue and cheek piercings are well known to cause significant dental and oral health complications.

gum recession caused by the back of the lip piercing continuously rubbing on the gums

Here’s an example of gum recession caused by the back of the lip piercing continuously rubbing on the gums

Lip and tongue piercings can and will cause damage to the teeth and gums. This is a known fact. Every responsible dentist, assistant and hygienist will tell you this. Most professional piercers know this, too. Metal lip and tongue jewelry will come into contact with the teeth. They will chip the enamel and can cause cracks and breaks if the jewelry is accidentally bitten. The jewelry will cause gum recession. It can cause the growth and spread of gum disease. This dental damage does not happen overnight, it’s a progression. Which is why, if you decide to get your lip or tongue pierced, it becomes so much more important to see a hygienist and dentist regularly. By having a routine with your hygienist and dentist, some of this damage can be caught before it becomes a huge concern. Some of these problems, such as the gum disease can be controlled or even stopped before it gets bad. Cracks and breaks can be fixed. But none of this is avoidable if you continue to wear the lip or tongue jewelry. It is a fact that you will have to understand and live with when you decide to have your lip or tongue pierced. That’s not to say wearing these bodily adornments is wrong or bad. Like any other decision you make concerning your body and your health, facial piercings should be looked at through all angles, with discretion and the understanding of all implications and lasting effects.

chipped and broken teeth are  common hazards of tongue piercings

Chipped and broken teeth are common hazards of tongue piercings.

Cheek piercings will also cause some dental issues, specifically the chipping and cracking of molar enamel. But they can also cause nerve damage to the face, as well as a secretion of saliva-like liquid from the punctured site. In some cases, they can also cause damage to the lymph nodes in the area. Again, the decision to have your cheek pierced should be an informed one.

All three of these types of facial piercings can cause speech problems, chewing problems and the overproduction of saliva. It is important to always be aware of the jewelry in your mouth, as it can become a choking hazard. If the jewelry is swallowed, it can become aspirated into the lungs. If it does make it down to the stomach, it can cause a lot of damage to the digestive tract and intestines.

And let’s not forget, the oral cavity is full of germs! The chance of these piercings becoming infected with bacteria is much high than any other piercing sight. Anyone with deadly allergies will tell you, a swollen tongue is not fun. Full lips are definitely an attractive look, when they are natural. But swollen lips due to infected piercings don’t look good on anyone. So how does one avoid infections and other problems? First, make sure to follow the instructions your piercer gives you. Maintain good oral hygiene. A change in your diet and eating habits is usually suggested including avoiding salty and spicy foods, taking smaller bites and chewing slowly and deliberately. Avoid playing with the jewelry. Avoid undue trauma. No more chewing gum, tobacco, fingernails, pencils or other foreign objects that could harbor bacteria.

Who should I talk with before getting a facial piercing?

If you are considering getting your lip, tongue or cheek pierced, look at all the facts. Talk with your dentist and piercer about all the health risks and other concerns you may have. Talk with people who already have piercings to get their perspective. Think about the specific reasons you want the piercings and weigh them against the very real and permanent effects of those piercings. When you get your lip, tongue or cheek pierced, be sure you are well-informed. A well-informed and discerning customer is subject to far fewer dangers than one with incomplete and inaccurate information. And always remember, in 20 years, you may not want that piercing. But you will want your teeth.