Oral piercing and tongue jewelry place athletes at risk for serious medical and dental consequences.
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So You Want to Pierce Your Tongue?
Oral piercing can cause pain, swelling, infection, drooling, taste loss, scarring, chipped teeth and tooth loss. Most dentists discourage oral piercing because of these risks.
Regulations vary in each state, so be careful if you decide to get any kind of piercing. Make sure that you ask the person performing the piercing about care after the piercing, possible side effects, cleanliness and anything that may concern you. If they are not prepared to answer your questions in a clear, professional manner, go somewhere else.
Fractured teeth are a common problem for people with oral piercings. People chip teeth on tongue piercings while eating, sleeping, talking and simply chewing on the jewelry. The fracture can be confined to the enamel of your tooth or may go deep into your tooth, which may require a root canal or extraction.
It is not unusual for the tongue to swell after being punctured, but in some cases the tongue swells so much that it can cut off your breathing. In rare cases, doctors may pass a breathing tube through a patient's nose until the swelling subsides.
The tongue is covered with bacteria, so any infection can be serious. See your dentist at the first sign of a problem. Dentists are learning that oral infections can lead to infections in other parts of the body. Your mouth has high levels of bacteria. When you puncture any part of the oral cavity, these bacteria may find its way into your bloodstream. Bacteria can reach your heart and cause a variety of health problems.
There is also a risk of contracting blood-borne infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis. Ask the person performing the piercing what they do to prevent the spread of these serious infections. Does the piercer use a fresh needle for every piercing? Some may reuse needles to keep down the cost of the piercing. Make sure they completely sterilize all needles and instruments in an autoclave, which uses extreme heat to sanitize instruments.
Make sure that the piercer uses the right kind of metal, such as surgical-grade stainless steel. Some people have allergic reactions to certain metals, which can lead to further complications.
Once your tongue has been pierced, it will take four to six weeks to heal. The piercer will place a larger, starter 'barbell' in your tongue to give it enough room to heal when your tongue swells. If you decide to keep the piercing, make sure to get a smaller barbell after the swelling goes down, which will be less likely to get in the way of your teeth and more difficult for you to chew on.
Barring complications, you will be able to remove the jewelry for short periods of time without the hole closing. Some suggest that you remove the jewelry to protect your teeth every time you eat or sleep. Some parlors sell plugs that you can place in the hole, which should allow you to remove the jewelry for as long as necessary.
Keep your piercing clean. Use an antiseptic mouthwash after every meal and brush the jewelry the same as you would your teeth. After the tongue has healed, take the piercing out every night and brush it as you would your teeth to remove any unseen plaque. Consider removing the piercing before eating, sleeping or strenuous activity.
Updated: February 2007
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