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Body Piercings and Teeth

The dangers of tongue and lip piercings to dental health

A Consultation with Dr. Steven Gold

Dear Doctor,
My daughter has a tongue piercing and wears a metal ball in the middle of her tongue. She has already chipped her lower front tooth. Can this piercing result in other dental problems?

Body piercing

Dear Katie,
Tongue and other piercings can cause many clinical problems. Tongue bolts, as they are known, have resulted in a variety of problems including chipping, sensitivity and pain to teeth. More frequently, periodontal (gum) problems may result. These may appear as recession, inflammation, infection and bone loss. Rarely, nerve damage can occur when placing a tongue bolt. If she continues to wear the tongue bolt she should consult with her dentist about the frequency of her dental checkups. Even though wearing oral ornaments may be in vogue presently, it is a trend that can have significant long-term effects. The Journal of the American Dental Association has noted that the most common sites for intraoral piercings are the tongue and the lip. The American Medical Association recently reported a case of severe facial pain following a tongue piercing in a teenager, a student in Rome, Italy. Afterwards she started to get electrical shocks 20-30 times a day in many areas of her face. A neurologist explained that the tongue bolt irritated the nerve to the tongue and was the cause of these neurological symptoms, a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia. The bolt was removed and two days later the pain was gone.

Tongue bolts can be painful to have placed, the tongue is rich in blood vessels and nerves and much bleeding can occur. Think about how painful it is when you just bite your tongue or lip accidentally. Many question why people have oral or other piercings or markings like tattoos; fashion and peer pressure are usually cited. Make sure they don't become “permanent reminders of temporary emotions,” in other words try not to make changes to your body that may be irreversible. Whatever you do, get advice first and learn as much as you can about all the ramifications before you make the decision to go ahead. The topic is worthy of discussion with your dentist first.