oral & perioral piercings

Historically, body piercings have been an expression of culture.  The Eskimos would pierce the lips of female infants as a purification ritual and the lips of boys as a passage into puberty.  The Mayans pierced tongues to demonstrate courage and strength.

Today, piercings are a form of body art which reflects an expression of fashion, daring and risk. Teenagers and  older adults of all professions have oral piercings but it is most popular among the 18-30 year olds.  The less permanent nature of piercings appeal to those wishing to make a personal statement (as opposed to tattoos).

Oral piercing sites are the tongue, cheeks, frenum,  upper and lower lips and uvula (the soft tissue that hangs at the back of the mouth) or even a combination of these sites.    The tongue is  the most common area and is usually pierced  at the tip and through the middle where a barbell is then placed.   Tongue rings are used when the piercing site is on the side or  top  of the tongue.  However, since the tongue is very vascular, major blood vessels must be avoided.  Other dental/medical complications immediately after tongue piercings may include pain, hemorrhaging, nerve damage, swelling of the tongue, Ludwigs angina (swelling serious enough to block the airway), endocarditis (inflammation of the heart or its valves), transmission of diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, herpes simplex virus, tetanus and difficulty with eating, swallowing and speech.  Other risks associated w/tongue piercings can result in gum recession, loss of taste, mobility and numbness of tongue, excessive salivation, chipping of teeth w/possible nerve involvement, allergy to metals, galvanic currents and possible aspiration or ingestion if the jewelry becomes loose.

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Tongue Barbell

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Tongue Ring

The lip is a popular area to pierce and can be located anywhere along the lip line.  A ring is worn by encircling the top or bottom or sides of the lip.  Another area frequently pierced is under the lower lip at the midline where a metal stud is placed inside and outside the lip.  However, these piercings can also press against the gum and cause recession resulting in loss of gum or bone and necessitating periodontal surgery to correct the problem.  In a recent study comparing the gums of 29 people (all about 22 years old), 41% of those with lip piercings had receding gums.

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Lip Ring

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Ball Stud - Labret

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Less common areas to pierce are the uvula, frenum and cheeks.  The uvula is difficult due to lack of access to the back of the throat and the gag reflex.  The lingual frenum (thin tissue attachment between the lip and the gum) piercings are known as “web piercings” and “dimples” are cheek piercings which is placed in the location of the natural dimples.

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Still want to pierce your tongue or lip? Look for these useful suggestions:

  • Check for infection control and sterilization standards—disposable gloves, sterile or
  • Disposable instruments, sterilized jewelry
  • Look for quality piercers—Association of Professional Piercers (APP) which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to uphold safety standards and certification of profession piercers
  • Quality of jewelry—surgical grade stainless steel, 14-karat gold or niobium oral jewelry (the finishes on costume jewelry can quickly wear off, leaving rough surfaces can irritate the pierced sites sometimes leading to infection)
  • Appropriate size of jewelry is used
  • A pierced tongue will need a shorter barbell after the swelling subsides and the healing is complete
  • Diligently keep the mouth clean by flossing and brushing daily
  • Having a cosmetic dentist, such as Dr. Tenney,  check your piercings on a regular basis will help keep your mouth healthy

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