Tongue piercing may sound cool to your teen and it may be a little less visible than other non-traditional piercings, but because of the sensitivity and importance of the tongue, it’s one of the most dangerous locations for a piercing. Pediatric dentists recommend against tongue piercings for many good reasons, and we think it’s important to spread the word to parents and patients.
Why Say “No” to Tongue Piercing?
Unlike some other popular spots for piercings, the tongue is full of nerves and blood vessels. Your tongue is also full of bacteria, most of which are harmless when they stay where they’re supposed to but can cause problems if they enter the bloodstream. This danger makes it a very tricky spot to pierce without damage—and a very hard location to maintain a piercing. In addition to a high risk of damage to the tongue itself, the stud can also cause significant problems for the teeth and gums.
What Does a Tongue Piercing Involve?
Medical professionals like to say that if parents and teens were more acutely aware of what a tongue piercing procedure involves, there would be a lot fewer of them! So, here’s how it typically works: the piercer holds the tongue steady with clamps and pierces it with a needle (since a piercer is not a medical professional, the procedure is done without anesthetic). The piercer will put a barbell-style stud in the hole (usually around ¾ of an inch to accommodate post-procedure swelling). That stud can be replaced after a few weeks, but even a smaller stud can cause oral health problems.
Because the tongue is such a sensitive area and full of blood vessels, the risk of disease transmission is higher than with piercings in some other areas. Tongue piercings have been linked to hepatitis, herpes, tetanus and even tuberculosis.
The mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria—which usually cause little or no problems, thanks to protection from saliva and other safeguards. But, the introduction of a foreign object, like a tongue piercing, can cause a bacterial infection near the piercing site—or worse. Because the tongue contains so many blood vessels, an infection can quickly spread through the bloodstream to major organs, including the heart and brain. Bacteria can cause endocarditis – an inflammation of the heart or its valves – especially in young people with an undetected underlying problem. Tongue piercings have also been linked to brain abscesses or infections caused by bacteria like strep entering the bloodstream.
Potential for Nerve Damage
Tongue piercings have been linked to a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder that can cause excruciating head pain. In some cases, a piercing can irritate the nerve running along the jaw under the tongue, which in turn is connected to the trigeminal nerve, one of the largest in the head. Physicians have documented cases of tongue piercings leading to trigeminal nerve pain.
Negative Impacts on Teeth and Gums
Tongue piercings can cause long-term problems for your overall dental health and can have a direct impact on teeth and gums. The balls of barbell studs can scrape tooth enamel, fracture the teeth, and also rub against the gums causing periodontal infection. When a teen opts to replace the barbell stud with a bar stud, this can get caught in the teeth and tear the tongue. If your teen is involved in sports or other physical activities, having a tongue piercing in place can be very dangerous and lead to an increased likelihood of dental injury if it knocks against the teeth. This is another reason the American Dental Association recommends against oral piercings, as does our practice.
As foreign objects in the mouth, tongue piercings can cause increased risk of choking. Fake magnetic tongue studs have also become popular with teens who don’t wish to go through with a piercing procedure. But, this double magnet system can also be dangerous and even deadly. When two magnets are swallowed, they can cause serious harm and even death by tearing internal organs.
Saying “No” to Tongue Piercings: Your Dentist Can Help
If your teen brings up the idea of a tongue piercing, we recommend going over the procedure in-depth, including photos available online and discussing the many risks.
At NOVA Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, our patients are valued and cared for from the toddler years through the teens, and we understand the rebellions and pressures of the teenage years. If your teen declines to listen to mom or dad, we are happy to talk to them in detail about why it may not be a smart choice. In some cases, getting the gory details from the doctor can make a big difference.