Dental Health Info Article

Dental Health Risks of Tongue Piercing:

Body modification is the art of altering a human body for esthetic reasons. The practice is commonplace in tribal cultures, fetish communities and the local mall as annually millions of people opt for body-piercing and tattooing as a form of self-expression. Individuals who opt for tongue piercing may accomplish their goal but are putting their dental health in jeopardy.

Estimates suggest that of all the body-piercing varieties tongue piercing is the second most popular, only behind ear piecing. The process involves an individual having their tongue clamped in place, a body modification artists pinpointing the exact position for where the jewelry will go and then having a needle forcibly rammed through the flesh of the organ. Once a hole has been made, the needle is quickly replaced with an elongated bar to provide room for swelling caused by the procedure. Only after the piercing heals (typically six weeks time) a person can choose to swap out the initial barbell for other type of adornment. Pain aside, there are risks to tongue piercing that can jeopardize dental care and dental health.

History of Tongue Piercing

Tongue piercing has a rich history dating back to both the Mayan and Aztec cultures. The body modifications practiced by those people tended to be for religious ceremony to honor the gods. After the hole was bore through the flesh of the tongue, the vacant space was used for rituals and jewelry adornment was not part of the equation. That changed when the body modification became a popular Westernized style trend.

Contemporary tongue piercing has been traced back to 1978 to a professional body-piercing studio in California called the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet was the first professional body-piercing studio in the country and at that time, those types of body modifications were considered to be an underground phenomenon in the homosexual sadism and masochism community. Somehow, the trend started to go mainstream and now the once taboo body modification is as rampant as the common cold.

Tongue Piercing Can Cause Malocclusion

Tongue piercing is an attention-getting modification that can also garner the unwanted scrutiny of a dentist as the adornment can contribute to dental problems including chipped teeth, gum damage and periodontal disease. The jewelry can also cause malocclusions that can only be corrected by dental braces.

Malocclusion is the fancy name for crooked teeth and individuals with pierced tongues are at great risk for destroying their bite courtesy of the absentmindedly playing with the jewelry after it has been anchored into the muscle. Research conducted and released by University at Buffalo in New York has demonstrated how tongue piercing can negatively impact tooth alignment. The condition is caused when the jewelry wearers run their adornment repeatedly over their gum-lines or press their tongues forward. That process results in pressure that can cause dental gaps to form (

The findings were unearthed courtesy of a 26 year-old female test subject. Photos of her smile prior to her tongue piercing at age 19 were compared with her current look. reports, "...that positioning of the tongue stud between the maxillary central incisors caused the mid-line space between the front teeth."

Stainless Steel Piercing Vulnerable to Infection

Not only can a pierced tongue damage the look of a smile, the material used can also increase the risk of infection. Typical jewelry options include stainless steel, titanium and two types of plastic called polytetrafluorethylene and polypropylene. Those who opt for the metal accoutrements are putting their dental health at risk of contracting staphylococcus, streptococcus or pseudomonas.

Research conducted and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that metal piercings (both stainless steel and titanium) can obtain higher bacteria levels than their plastic counterparts. Researchers replaced the tongue jewelry of 68 female and 12 male participants (average age 23) with piercings composed of the four different materials. The subjects wore the jewelry for two weeks and researchers then analyzed the jewelry for bacteria levels; the highest concentrations were on the stainless steel items.

Body art fans are encouraged to continue their form of self-expression only if they fully understand the risks involved. Tongue piercing aficionados need to pay special attention to their oral hygiene habits and are strongly encouraged to brush and floss daily, eat nutritious foods and choose clean fresh water as their beverage of choice. Those behaviors followed up by regular dental visits, professional dental exams and cleanings are an essential preventative dentistry strategy that can nip any problems in the bud before it becomes too late and too costly to repair. Individuals needing tofind a dentist should call 1-800-DENTIST to get the contact information for a great dentist to monitor the effects that tongue piercing may have.