Worth the Risks?
Noted N.C. dental professional says oral piercing could lead to ugly consequences
The former head of the N.C. Dental Society is adding her voice to the chorus of medical professionals who are sounding off about the dangers of oral piercings.
In recent years, such piercings have become popular among many, including teens and young adults.
“Some young people resort to popular but potentially dangerous practices, including piercing of the tongue, lips, cheek or uvula (the tiny tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat),” said Dr. Nona Breeland, a Chapel Hill endodontist and former president of the N.C. Dental Society.
While Breeland conceded that most will suffer no ill effects from such piercings, the potential for danger is high.
“The mouth’s moist environment is home to large numbers of breeding bacteria and is an ideal place for infection,” she said. “Oral piercing carries a risk of endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valves or tissues. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the piercing site in the mouth and travel to the heart, where it can establish itself. This is a risk for people with heart conditions and, in the worst of cases, can result in death.”
It’s also possible to puncture a nerve during a tongue piercing, leading to a numb tongue and/or nerve damage that could be temporary or permanent.
She added that an oral piercing can also interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing and have a number of uncomfortable and embarrassing side effects, including excessive drooling, increased saliva flow, chips or cracks to teeth and pain and swelling.
Dr. Breeland says that dentists in North Carolina see serious oral problems caused by piercing in free Missions of Mercy (NCMOM) dental clinics put on by volunteer dentists who treat the underserved.
“Unfortunately, many patients who come to MOM events, especially the working poor with limited or no access to regular dental care, end up with runaway infections in the mouth that have spread to other parts of the body.”