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Unhealthy After a Fashion

Oral health: Dentists are finding new problems related to mouth piercing.

September 22, 1997|SUSAN OKIE | THE WASHINGTON POST

With the growing popularity of body piercing, dentists are becoming concerned about complications that can occur when people have had jewelry or metal devices placed in the tongue and other parts of the mouth.

Such piercing is done by unlicensed, self-trained operators, without anesthesia. Pain and swelling are frequent, but other side effects can include prolonged bleeding, chipped teeth, scarring and infections, according to the Journal of the American Dental Assn.

Drs. Shelia S. Price and Maurice W. Lewis of the West Virginia University School of Dentistry described the case of a 20-year-old patient, treated in their clinic for an unrelated wisdom tooth problem, who had pierced his tongue, lip and uvula (the pink tag of tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat).

He subsequently swallowed the uvula ornament when it accidentally came out, but he still wore the barbell-shaped tongue ornament. Price warned that such jewelry can fall out and obstruct the patient's airway, can damage teeth during chewing, and can prevent dentists from getting a good look at the teeth on dental X-rays. It may also impede speech and increase the flow of saliva.

Ornaments in the tongue--the most common site for piercing in the mouth--can collect food debris and other foreign material, increasing the risk of infection.

Although there are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of mouth piercing, Price said dentists at the Morgantown, W. Va., clinic are seeing an increasing number of patients with piercing of the tongue, lips or cheeks, and wanted to alert colleagues to the risks, "just in the event that a patient who may be contemplating having piercing done comes to seek the guidance of his or her dentist."

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