Oral Piercings Effects on Oral Health - Savina Dental Clinics Malta Gozo

Oral piercings are a popular form of self-expression among teens. While they may seem like harmless body art, they can lead to complications, including oral health. Most oral piercings are done on the lips and tongue. Since these spots are almost always moist, they are an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria that can cause serious health effects.

What are oral piercings?

An oral piercing is a piercing on the cheek, lips, or tongue. Like with ear piercings, metal jewellery is used. The jewellery comes in different styles, including rings, barbells, and studs. They can be a great addition to your look and style, however, it is wise to consult a dentist on the risks involved before you get one.

Types of oral piercings

Aside from the tongue, lips, and cheeks, you can get oral piercings on the uvula (the tissue hanging at the back of your throat) and the frenum (the tissue that connects the tongue and lips to the gums.

Oral piercings done inside the mouth are called intraoral, while those done outside are called perioral.

Oral piercing risks and complications

Damage to gums, teeth, and fillings

Since oral piercings include the addition of foreign metallic materials shifting and moving in your mouth, they can crack and damage your dental restoration work (fillings, dental crowns, dental implants, etc.) or chip your teeth. They make it difficult to take good care of dental work and get the best results.

Gum disease

Harmful bacteria can accumulate in the mouth with oral piercings. This accumulation can lead to gum disease (periodontal disease). If it’s bad enough, periodontal disease can require surgery to treat. Without proper treatment, it may lead to tooth loss and affect overall oral and body health. The retention clips on lip piercings can cause the gum to recede quickly around the teeth the clips come into contact with

Nerve damage

The tongue has between 50 and 60 primary nerve branches that can be damaged during the piercing procedure. The nerve damage results in numbness. Usually, this numbness is temporary, but in some cases, it’s permanent. If you get a tongue piercing, you could lose the sense of taste, the ability to move your tongue in some normal ways, which eventually affects your speech.

Blood-borne diseases

You run the risk of catching an infection like HIV and hepatitis if contaminated piercing tools are used in the procedure.

Endocarditis

Endocarditis is a life-threatening inflammation of the inner lining of the heart’s valves and chambers. It is usually caused by infections. Fungi or bacteria from other body parts carried through the bloodstream attach to damaged spots in your heart.

When not treated fast, endocarditis can destroy heart valves. Since oral piercings can be the source of an increase in bacteria in the bloodstream, they are one of the causative agents of endocarditis.

Change in saliva flow

When you get an oral piercing, it stimulates the salivary glands to produce more saliva, which causes drooling. In some cases, this will go away after a while. But usually, increased saliva flow will continue for as long as you wear the piercing.

Generally, healthy saliva flow helps in preventing tooth decay. However, too much saliva flow can result in tartar buildup. Tartar is calcified plaque that sticks and hardens under the gums and on teeth. Tartar can only be removed through professional dental cleanings. Aside from this, increased saliva flow leads to drooling, which isn’t great for your social life.

Bad breath

Since oral piercing jewellery covers oral tissue, proper brushing can be a problem. Without efficient brushing, food debris and plaque bacteria will accumulate around and under the piercing resulting in bad breath.

Prolonged bleeding

When the piercing procedure goes wrong, and a blood vessel is pierced in the process, you may experience excessive bleeding leading to significant blood loss.

Pain and swelling

Oral piercing involves puncturing through healthy body tissues. The affected areas react with swelling and pain. The swelling and pain may go away after a while. But while it prevails, patients will have a hard time cleaning their teeth and gums properly. The swelling might also affect speaking and eating.

To book a dental consultation, please use our online appointment form or contact us directly on (+356) 2125 7253 (Skyparks Business Centre, Malta International Airport), or (+356) 2155 7323 (Dingli Street, Victoria, Gozo). For international patients, it is recommended to request a free e-consultation where we can discuss your individual case and treatment options.

Oral piercing safety measures

If and when you decide to get a piercing, you should ensure you are up to date with the vaccines for tetanus, and hepatitis B. Choose a piercing shop that appears clean and is run well. The piercer should have a license that guarantees you they are well trained for the procedure.

Before the procedure, the piercer should wash their hands with germ-killing soap, wear fresh and disposable gloves and use sterilized tools or disposable kits. Moreover, you’ll want to ensure that:

  • The piercer is happy to answer any questions
  • The people working in the shop are vaccinated against hepatitis B. It is okay to ask this
  • The shop you choose doesn’t use piercing guns
  • The needle is new and hasn’t been used before
  • The needle is put in a sealed container after use
  • Jewellery is made from surgical steel, platinum, titanium or solid gold

Once you get your oral piercing and leave the shop, you want to ensure that the piercings heal and do not get infected. Healing only takes between 3 and 4 weeks. During this time, you should:

  • Rinse your tongue or lip after every snack or meal and before you go to sleep at night. Use some saltwater or an antibacterial and alcohol-free mouthwash
  • While healing, do not kiss anyone. You should avoid contact with another person’s saliva
  • Do not share forks, plates, cups, or spoons
  • Eat small bites of healthy foods
  • Avoid acidic, spice, and salty foods
  • Be gentle in your chewing and talking. Though tempting, do not try to click your jewellery against the teeth
  • Check that your jewellery is tight to avoid swallowing and choking from time to time
  • Take the jewellery out when playing sports

When to seek help

After getting an oral piercing, expect short-term symptoms like swelling, extra saliva, and swelling. However, be watchful for signs of infections, including:

  • Discharge
  • Foul smell
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Excessive bleeding

If you experience any of the above, you should seek help from your health care provider. Also, if you experience anything out of the ordinary during the healing process, seek immediate help.

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Savina Clinic – Dental & Implantology Centres are friendly, state-of-the-art practices in Malta and Gozo dedicated to comprehensive quality dental care. Savina Dental is an innovative dental practice in Malta and prides itself on the high-quality customer service, low waiting room times, attention to detail and the advanced dental technology at their disposal.

Joseph Xuereb
Principal Dental Surgeon & Owner of Savina Dental Clinics, Dr Joseph Xuereb BChD (Hons), MFGDP(UK), MGDS RCS(Eng), FFGDP RCS(UK), FICD is a general dental practitioner with a special interest in Implant and Restorative Dentistry. Dr Joseph & the teams' full biographical information can be found here.