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So you’re thinking about getting an oral piercing

Local physicians discuss risks of popular trend

March 1, 2011
By CHRISTOPHER DIEM Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Two local physicians are urging people to think twice before getting an oral piercing.

Oral piercing, a popular form of body art for people of all ages but particularly young people, can interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing and can easily become infected, according to Dr. Kelsey Patton and Dr. Matthew Hostetler, dentists at the Sawyer Dental Center in Gwinn.

"We just want people to know what a seemingly harmless procedure can entail. A piercing will be an added responsibility to your life that will require constant attention and upkeep," Patton said.

Article Photos

A model displays an example of a tongue piercing, a procedure that has grown increasingly popular in recent years. Experts advise caution, however, as such piercings can have medical consequences. (Journal file photo)

Piercing the tongue, lips, cheeks or uvula - the tissue that hangs at the back of the throat - can be risky. The mouth, which has huge amounts of bacteria, is an ideal place for infection.

Piercings can also lead to pain and swelling, chipped or cracked teeth and fillings, gum injuries, increased saliva flow and drooling, hypersensitivity to metals, scar tissue and nerve damage.

An oral infection can become a serious health threat if it's not treated promptly.

"It is a serious risk for people with heart conditions because of the possibility of endocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart valves or tissues," Hostetler said. "Bacteria could enter the bloodstream through the piercing site and travel to the heart, where it can colonize on abnormalities."

With tongue piercings, the tongue may swell dangerously.

Swelling could potentially be serious enough to block the airway. In addition, it's possible to puncture a nerve during the piercing procedure which could lead to temporary or even permanent nerve damage and numbness.

"Any injured nerves in the tongue could affect your ability to taste, or how you move your mouth to chew, swallow and talk," Hostetler said.

Piercing jewelry can sometimes cause allergic responses to the pierced site. The jewelry can interfere with dental care by blocking X-rays.

If a person is convinced they want an oral piercing, it's best to talk to friends who also have an oral piercing to find out the name of the studio where they got it. It should have the appropriate health certificates and the needles, studs, hoops and barbells should be kept in sterilized packaging.

A pierced tongue can take four to six weeks to heal, while pierced lips can take one to two months. While healing, people should avoid alcohol, spicy foods, hard and sticky foods and tobacco-based products.

Doctors suggest brushing after every meal and rinsing with mouthwash. It's also important to see a dentist if there are any problems or concerns.

Common warning signs which require immediate physician attention after a piercing include yellow or green discharge from the piercing site - a white or clear discharge is normal; scarring or thickened tissue that builds up and darkens around the piercing site; increased redness, pain and swelling; a pimple-like abscess; bleeding or tearing after the initial healing; and a persistent low-grade fever following the piercing.

Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is



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