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Oral Piercing

Body piercing is becoming quite popular. An example includes piercing parts of the mouth (oral) as body decoration. Oral piercing are seen in people of all ages but are more common in young adults.

Common Oral Piercing Sites

Oral piercing sites include the tongue, the uvula (the soft tissue hanging at the back of the mouth), the lower and upper lips, the cheeks or even a combination of these sites. The tongue, being the most common area, is usually pierced in the middle, towards the tip. It may be pierced through its width, from right to left, or through its thickness.

How Oral Piercing is Done

  • Oral piercing is frequently done by unlicensed practitioners who are often self trained.
  • Infection control standards should be followed. These are: disposable gloves, sterile or disposable instruments and sterilized jewelry.
  • Jewelry includes studs, hoops and barbell shaped devices. Surgical grade stainless steel, 14-karat gold or niobium oral jewelry is recommended. The device must be removable.
  • Local anesthetic (freezing) is generally not used.
  • A needle, of the same shape and size as the device being inserted into the tissues, placed inside a plastic sheath punctures the tongue. The needle is then removed, leaving in the sheath until a temporary device is placed.
  • The temporary device must be longer than the permanent device in order to allow immediate and increasing swelling of the tongue. Surgical removal of the device is necessary if swelling imbeds it into the tongue.
    Within 3-6 weeks, a permanent device is then placed and constantly worn to avoid closure of the perforation.

Problems That May Be Encountered

Common Symptoms Include:

  • Pain, swelling, infection due to digital manipulation (handling) of the jewelry and large amounts of bacteria in the mouth, increased salivary flow, and redness due to the high blood flow to the tongue.

Risks Include:

  • Transmission of diseases such as Hepatitis, HIV, Herpes Simplex Virus, Tetanus.
  • Prolonged bleeding if blood vessels are punctured.
  • Hazard to the airway by swelling of the tongue or aspiration of the jewelry.
  • Allergy to metals and galvanic currents.
  • Loss of taste, mobility and numbness of the tongue.
  • Constant irritation to the oral tissues, including gingival injury.
  • Difficulty with mastication, speech and swallowing.
  • Abrasion and fracture of the dentition and restorations.
  • Damage to the pulp of the tooth.
  • Obstruction of radiographs of the oral cavity and skull.
  • Prevents proper oral examination.

Care and Maintenance

During the 4-6 week healing period:

  • Refrain from talking too much for a few days after the piercing in order to release discomfort and swelling.
  • Recommended regular use of warm salt water or antiseptic mouthwash.
  • Avoid smoking, alcoholic beverages, spicy foods
  • Intake of soft foods and vitamin supplements may facilitate tissue healing.
  • Abstain from French kissing and oral sex for at least 2 weeks in order to reduce the risk of infection.

After the piercing site has healed, the device may be removed for a short period of time:

  • Clean after every meal with a toothbrush and mouth rinse.
  • Remove device and clean all surfaces.
  • Avoid hard and sticky foods.
  • Proper care should be taken during participation in strenuous sports and contact game.

  • If an individual develops a habit of biting on the device:
    - A shorter bar could be used to prevent biting on the oral jewelry.
    - A night guard or splint may be worn to protect the teeth.
    - Removal of the device would prevent any trauma to the teeth.

It is important to have full knowledge of potential complications and continually monitor for possible infection. If complications occur, go back to where the piercing was done or see a health professional for treatment.