Oral piercings may cause health risk

Periodontal, gum disease more likely for smokers with tongue jewelry.

Body piercing may be fashionable, but it can also have dangerous implications.

In a recent report conducted by the American Academy of Periodontology, oral piercing increases the risk of periodontal disease, tooth chipping and gum recession.

According to the report, gum recession increased 50 percent when wearing long-stemmed barbells in the tongue for two or more years and 35 percent for four or more years of wear.

Periodontal disease also increased among people with tongue piercing, the report stated. Periodontal diseases are serious bacterial infections that destroy the attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold teeth in the mouth.

"Periodontal disease can form due to the trauma of the ornament bruising the gums, hitting teeth and chipping teeth," said Wayne Payne, professor of physiology and health. This erodes the bone of the teeth and can erode into the bone that comprises the upper and lower jaw."

Smokers with a pierced tongue are at an even greater risk of forming complications in the mouth, the report stated.

"Mouth piercings and smoking combined could cause a mouthful of trouble," said Kenneth Bueltmann, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, as published at InteliHealth. "As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have calculus on your teeth, deep pockets between your teeth and gums and loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth. Combine these problems with gum recession from tongue piercing and you are on your way to having a serious infection called periodontal disease and not to mention a not-so-cool-looking mouth."

Aside from oral complications, Payne said infections can be introduced to the body through oral piercing.

"There's an increased risk of local and systemic infection with piercing in part because piercing itself introduces it," he said. "Infections can be in the tongue, gum tissues or even system-wide."

Despite dangers noted by medical professionals, professors and other skeptics, local piercing artist Jason Resler, who works at Ground Zero and has been studying piercing for eight years, insists piercings, when done properly, carry low risks of medical problems.

"As long as piercings are done at a sterile environment by a professional, there are very few risks," Resler said. "Risks are very low if you check out where you are going to have it done."

In Delaware County, most piercing business use sterile equipment because the Board of Health routinely inspects them, Resler says.

The equipment used in tongue piercing - clamps, needles and ornaments - is put in a packet. The packet is placed in an autoclave for sterilization. If the pack has been sterilized properly, the equipment should have a dark brown color, Resler said. Unsterilized pieces will have a light blue or light green tint.

"(Piercers) should show you the packet, and take it out in front of you so you know it's sterile," Resler said.

If someone is interested in getting a tongue piercing, Resler offers some advice on how to make sure it will be done well and with the lowest risk.

First, research information on tongue piercing. A great resource, Resler says, is www.trivalectic.com. The Web site includes information on the healing process and personal testimonies.

Second, people should look through the portfolio of the person who will be performing the piercing.

"If they don't have any pictures, walk out immediately," Resler said.

Finally, Resler thinks it is very important to feel comfortable with who is going to do the piercing. They should be willing to answer questions and explain the procedure.


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