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The Dangers of Tongue Piercing

Minh Nguyen -- Piercing is one of the most prevalent forms of body art and self-expression. But body piercing should not be a frivolous, spur-of-the-moment act.

Why? It's a surgical procedure that is frequently carried out in beauty salons or tattoo/piercing parlors that are completely unregulated. Worse yet, body parts are also pierced at concerts and in people's garages, basements and bathrooms.

Currently, there are no certification or training standards for body piercers. Anyone can grab a needle (which may be contaminated with AIDS or Hepatitis B, C, D or G) and puncture someone else's body. Oral piercing, in particular, poses some serious risks because of the high number of bacteria normally found in the mouth. It's a procedure that should not be taken lightly.

Tongue piercing can lead to serious infection, lost teeth, nerve injuries, blood poisoning -- even death. The most serious risks include:


According to the Hepatitis C Foundation, body piercing has contributed significantly to the spread of Hepatitis C (also known as HCV), a disease that public health officials predict will kill more people than AIDS in the next millennium.

The National Institutes of Health has identified piercing as a potential source for other bloodborne hepatitis (B, D and G). The deadly AIDS virus can also be transmitted during body piercing, if the piercer uses a contaminated needle.

Toxic Shock

A serious form of blood poisoning, commonly known as toxic shock syndrome, can enter the body through the piercing wound and spread throughout the body. Symptoms of TSS include high fever, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea, dizziness, a rapid pulse, and a sunburn-like rash. TSS is potentially fatal, so if you notice any of these symptoms, it's important to be evaluated by a healthcare professional immediately.

Lung aspiration of the jewelry

The barbell placed in a pierced tongue can come off. If the post (the needle-like portion of the jewelry that goes through the tongue) is swallowed, it can obstruct the airway and aspirate into the lung, or perforating the bowel or the intestine, cause death.

Tongue swelling and bleeding

In response to the trauma of a piercing, a tongue will swell -- sometimes to the size of a large pickle. This poses the risk of airway blockage, which can result in death. The major vessels of the lingual artery and vein are located in the tongue and, if pierced, will bleed profusely. If a piercing wound bleeds excessively (i.e., for more than an hour after the piercing), see your physician immediately.

Other non-life threatening problems are:

Pain -- The diameter of the to 14-gauge needle usually used to pierce tongues is seven times greater than the needle used in traditional dental anesthesia.

Cracked teeth -- Frequently, people with pierced tongues accidentally bite down on the stud while chewing, chipping, or cracking a tooth.

Speech interference -- The tongue plays a large role in your speech, and some people complain that they can't speak clearly after getting their tongues pierced.

Traumatic neuromas -- altered sensation can develop, which produce nerve injuries in the tongue. Some individuals experience allergic reactions to the jewelry, particularly if it is not made of surgical steel, gold, or titanium.

Gum damage -- The jewelry can rub against the gums and cause them to recede, or pull back from the teeth. This can lead to gum disease and eventual tooth loss.

Keloid formation -- Large growths of scar tissue protrude from the piercing on both the top and the underside of the tongue.

Prolonged or permanent drooling -- In some individuals, their bodies naturally respond to the invasiveness of the tongue piercing by increased salivation. This response cannot be consciously controlled.

Damaged sense of taste -- The American Dental Association stands firmly against the practice of oral piercing. The National Institute of Health and The National Hepatitis Foundation have also taken a position against tongue piercing. Many dentists recommend that you think twice before undergoing the procedure.

Dr. Nguyen is a high tech cosmetic dentist in Houston whose innovative cosmetic dental restoration has been broadcasted by the Local TV Channel 2 News. For more information, visit Cosmetic Dentistry. SoftDental,, is Houston's Top General Dentistry.

© 2006 Minh Nguyen

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