National Children’s Dental Health Month: dangers of oral piercings

Capt. Jeremy Hamal
435th Dental Squadron

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles and commentaries in celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month.

It is commonplace in this day and age to see children walking around with an oral piercing, whether it is in the lip, the tongue, the cheek, or that uniquely European “between the teeth” ring. The fashion merits of this kind of jewelry are subject to debate, yet there is an insidious health consequence that should be considered before subjecting the tongue to a through-and-through jab with a needle of questionable cleanliness. 

Namely, these piercings can have serious effects upon an individual’s well-being.

***image1***The human mouth is teeming with bacteria − billions of them.  Any piercing can be considered a direct portal into the body, whereby these bacteria can enter and cause a potentially life-threatening infection. A swollen and infected tongue could block an airway, suffocating the hapless pierced victim. Regardless of the experience of the person doing the piercing, any piercing can cause uncontrollable bleeding or permanent nerve damage.

Healing from any piercing can take upwards of six weeks. In the meantime, the pierced lip can result in significant swelling and pain. Once a pierced site has healed,  dislodged jewelry can be swallowed or lodged in the lungs. Moreover, chipped or cracked teeth are not uncommon and quite often these conditions are not restorable − the tooth must be extracted.

Jewelry worn in the mouth can hinder the ability to speak and can even make eating a challenge. Given the potential for unwanted trips to the emergency room or the  friendly dentist, it becomes difficult to rationalize the ‘coolness’ of a tongue ring. This is a decision that can have major consequences for oral health.