Oral piercings are gaining ground amongst teens in recent times. I have personally seen some Ghanaian youths at my clinic copying the trendy western way of living because oral piercings are perceived to be a form of body art and self-expression. The most common site to see an oral piercing is the tongue. Fashion jewellery modifications that are inserted in these piercings are studs, rings, hoops and barbells. These are quite similar to what is placed in pierced ears. However, the question we should be asking ourselves is “are oral piercings safe?”
Oral piercing or mouth piercing is a small hole that is created in your tongue, cheek, lip or the uvula (a piece of tissue at the back of your throat when you shout ‘Ahh’) to enable an individual to wear jewellery. The piercings may be placed within the mouth (intraorally) or around the lips and cheeks (periorally). The jewellery placed in these piercings is made of a variety of metals including titanium, gold, stainless steel and other alloys. Oral piercings have been practiced for religious, sexual, cultural and identity reasons but have now been a highly acceptable fashion statement in our society.
Oral piercings date back as far as 1500 B.C. Tongue piercing began in America and it was a ritual for the Mayans and Haida tribes. Oral piercings, in general, began from jungle tribes in South America, Africa and Indonesia. These days, it is considered more of a body art rather than for representing the traditions and beliefs of a tribe or a set of people. Foreign celebrities popularizing the trend include Christiana Aguilera, Britne y Spears and Ashley Scott. Research has revealed that these cosmetic piercings are invasive and have negative health problems that outweigh any potential benefit and they are as follows:
A major complication worth discussing is the risk of infection. The mouth already harbours various germs in the mouth and the piercing procedure also introduces additional germs into the piercing site. Poor sterilization of the instruments used as well as the wrong techniques can bring about prolonged bleeding and delayed healing of the wound. There is a cause for alarm with regards to a tetanus infection if the instruments used are rusty. Some of the infections caused by tongue piercings can be so lethal that they cause life-threatening conditions such as the ‘Ludwig’s angina’(an infection that can kill you in seconds). Other infections that can also occur are yeast infections especially if there is excessive cleansing done to keep the piercing site hygienic.
Another major negative health problem associated with oral piercings is the damage to adjacent vital structures of the mouth. If care is not taken blood vessels, nerves and muscles within a tissue can be damaged. Once blood flow is cut off, certain structures in the mouth become non-vital.
There could also be the transmission of diseases during oral piercings. The use of contaminated instruments can bring about the transmission of viruses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C and herpes. If poor-quality jewellery is inserted in the piercings, it can wear off and cause an allergic reaction as well. Most of the vendors who usually perform these procedures are not qualified and they cause more harm than good to the client.
Damage to the tooth and gums is a complication that occurs when the individual accidentally bites in the jewellery inserted in the piercing whilst eating or talking. The teeth can crack as a result of this and the gums may also recede if the jewellery is worn for a period greater than 2 years.
In conclusion, oral piercing like most advancements is like a two-edged sword. Although it aids in self-expression, it is associated with many risks as well. Consequently, if you already have an oral piercing, I will suggest that you maintain proper oral hygiene, avoid imitation jewellery, clean the jewellery regularly, visit the dentist often for a regular check-up and immediately when you have discomfort following the oral piercing.
AUTHOR: DR MICHAEL AWUA-MENSAH