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Oral Piercing

by Adriana Jaramillo DDS & Carlos A Jaramillo IV

Oral piercing - including the lips, tongue, cheeks, and uvula - is becoming increasingly prevalent. Because of the risk of developing serious complications that result in dental problems, providers are speaking out in opposition to oral piercing. Though we certainly respect the individual’s right to self expression, based on clinical grounds (damaged or lost teeth, drooling, gum and nerve damage, taste loss and infection) Dr. Adriana Jaramillo does not recommend oral piercing.

Common complications of oral piercing include pain, swelling, infection and increased salivary flow. Oral piercing may also interfere with normal speech, chewing and swallowing. Healing may take several weeks. Some of the more serious and common complications of oral piercing include:

  1. Damaged teeth and restorations: A study[1] found 47% of individuals with tongue piercing had tooth chipping on molars and premolars. Damaged teeth, including fractures, are a common problem. Deep fractures may require a root canal or extraction.
  2. Gingival injury or recession: The same study[1] found rates as high as 50% for gingival recession on mandibular central incisors in individuals with tongue piercing. This results from the repeated irritation caused by oral piercing. When gum lines recede, the body reabsorbs the underlying bone.
  3. Tissue damage: The tongue is rich in blood and nerve supply, and piercing may result in irreparable damage to these structures. Scar and localized tissue overgrowth are possible complications along with impaired taste sensation.
  4. Infection: The surface of the mouth is covered with bacteria, which may gain entry into the bloodstream. We are learning that these are the same bacteria which are responsible for other systemic conditions including heart disease (endocarditis) see Systemic Health. Oral infections resulting from piercing may be severe and potentially life threatening. Some swelling is normal and this may mask the symptoms of infection. Severe swelling may obstruct breathing. Infections that may be caused by oral piercing include pronounced edema, blood borne hepatitis, tetanus and localized tuberculosis. Ludwig’s angina, a potentially fatal infection, has also been reported following tongue piercing.
  5. Organ Damage: In rare cases, oral jewelry has been aspirated or ingested, presenting a hazard to respiratory and digestive organs.

The health concerns surrounding oral piercing are real and potentially serious. We feel it is our professional duty to join the American Dental Association in opposing the practice of oral piercing. We invite our patients who have or would like to have oral piercing to talk with us about their questions or concerns.

For more information visit:

  • Academy of General Dentistry: Oral Piercing | Teen Oral Health
  • American Academy of Periodontology: Oral Piercing & Complications
  • American Dental Association: Grills | Oral Piercing |
  • Wisconsin Dental Association: Oral Piercings |
  • Simple Steps: Tongue Piercing

For additional dental health resources visit our index of resources


[1] Campbell, Allison [et.al.] “Tongue Piercing: Impact of Time and Barbell Stem Length on Lingual Gingival Recession and Tooth Chipping.” Journal of Periodontology. March 2002: 289 -297.


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