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oral piercings = broken teeth…or worse!

Sooner or later, it’s probably going to happen. If you’ve got a tongue stud or a lip piercing, you’re going to break a tooth. Or maybe something worse.

Really, I don’t like being the square who tells you that your pierced tongue is a problem. I’d love to tell you that there’s no risk to your teeth and gums. But I’d be lying. It’s not that every single tongue or lip piercing is going to break a tooth, but you increase your risk significantly by doing it. Just like drinking a lot of pop increases your risk for cavities. In fact, oral piercings increase your risk of several dental problems.

"Doc, I'm terrified of needles!"

If you’ve ever been around someone with a new piercing, you’ll find that people play with them. It’s a new and different feeling and it’s your tongue’s job to make sure it checks everything out in your mouth. So you’ll clack that thing against your teeth. Or you’ll push it up against the roof of your mouth. You’re going to mess around with it. Worse than that is the fact that you have these two weighted masses (one on the top, one on the bottom) on either side of your tongue that can affect your tongue’s proprioception. Proprioception is a very fancy word that describes the way your nervous system just knows where it’s parts are. The reason that you can touch your nose with your eyes closed is because you have proprioceptive nerve cells that describe to your brain where your finger is compared to your nose. It’s like the body’s GPS system for it’s parts. Adding a tongue stud throws these proprioceptive nerves off the same way holding a barbell in your hand would throw off that little “touch your nose with your finger” exercise. The likely result is that you’re going to accidentally bite that thing or whack it against a tooth. Do this enough times and you’ll probably break a tooth.

an odd place for a tooth to break

I recently saw a patient who had a broken tooth that was sensitive. I see a lot of broken teeth, but this one was broken in an odd place. So I asked him if there was a great story…and there was. His answer, “I used to have a tongue piercing. It broke that tooth, so I took it out the day I broke it.” So, there you have it. He decreased his risk of another broken tooth by taking it out!

There are little strings that attach your lower lip to your jawbone. Look in a mirror while you pull your lower lip forward and you’ll see them. These things are called frena (singular: frenum). Some folks have a frenum attachment that’s pretty close to the gum line of their lower front teeth. If you add a lip piercing, you can get a pretty consistent tug on these frena. And sometimes, the gum tissue starts to recede around those front teeth.

It's all fun and games until your gum starts receding

This kind of aggressive recession actually causes you to lose the bone that supports those teeth. What can happen then? You could lose those teeth. Often the procedures needed just to hang onto those teeth (gum grafts and other reconstructive procedures) can be expensive and unpredictable. So again, having this kind of a piercing isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have these problems, but it increases your risk of problems significantly.

Finally, the piercing procedures themselves have a great risk of infection. I’ve been told that the people that do piercings take great care to make sure that they use clean and sterile instruments and I have no reason not to believe them. But even the cleanest and best procedures done by folks with high levels of training are at risk for infection. Most people wouldn’t choose to have surgery on their lip or tongue without a good reason. But oral piercings are essentially surgery, or at least the healing that you must do is the same. All surgeries have risk of infection, and piercings are no different. Worse than that, someone who’s gone through the decision to have a piercing and the procedure itself isn’t likely to take it out. Even if it’s the problem causing an infection!

"I didn't sign up for an infected tongue!"

What can I say? I’m a buzz kill. Oral piercings increase your risk of broken teeth, gum problems and infection. You shouldn’t do it. But if you do, realize that there are problems, sometimes expensive problems, that you may have to deal with! On the other hand, I want you to know that if you have a problem with a piercing, I’m happy to help. I’ve treated many people with complications from piercings and I can help if you’ve had a “piercing induced problem.” You can easily request an appointment on the website or call us at (989) 799-9133. We’re here for all of our patients…even those with piercings!

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If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at alan@meadfamilydental.com. I always answer my own emails!