Oral Piercings & Oral Health

Body piercings – art or fad?

Body piercing has a long history, dating back to Roman centurions, Mayan rituals and British royalty. Whether cultural, spiritual or artistic, it is evident that this type of body art is more than a passing trend.

While body piercings may now be considered a mainstream way for people to express themselves, there are some risks associated with specific types of piercings, such as oral piercings.

If you do not have but are thinking about getting an oral piercing, please read this page carefully. You should be aware of the oral health risks and concerns before you undergo a piercing procedure. Some of these risks include gum disease (gingivitis), drooling, permanent scarring and painful infections.

If you already have an oral piercing, you will need to take extra care and maintenance of your oral health, to minimize the risk of infection and damage in your mouth. Please read and save the “Oral Piercings Care” chart below and discuss your oral health treatment plan with your Altima dentist.

What qualifies as “oral jewellery”?

Oral jewellery includes the aesthetic use of inserted materials (studs, barbells, rings, jewels, etc) in the mouth, lips, tongue, cheeks, throat, uvula, and/or surrounding tissue or bone. Other oral body art modifications can include tattooing, skin splitting, or scarification. All body art modifications have similar risks to oral health as oral piercings. They should be disclosed and discussed with your dentist as part of your dental treatment plan.

Health risks of oral piercings

There are various associated health risks with oral piercings that include:

Oral Infections: Having oral piercings increases your risk of infections. This is because your mouth contains millions of bacteria that can easily enter the open wound of an oral piercing. Touching or handling oral jewellery can also increase your risk of oral infections.2

Damage to Teeth: When oral jewellery comes into contact with your teeth, it has the potential to chip, fracture, or crack these surrounding teeth. Oral jewellery also has the potential to damage dental restorations you may have, such as dental crowns and fillings.3

Gum Disease (Gingivitis): When oral jewellery constantly comes into contact with your gums, it can injure these soft tissues causing your gums to gradually recede. Receded gums are more susceptible to gingivitis, inflammation, bleeding and can even lead to periodontal disease.3

Aspiration of Jewellery: When oral jewellery becomes loosened, it has the potential to be swallowed or aspirated into your lungs. This is very dangerous, as oral jewellery that’s ingested can cause significant damage to your digestive tract or lungs.

Endocarditis: While rare, oral piercings can increase your risk of a serious disease called Endocarditis. Endocarditis occurs when the tissues and valves of your heart become inflamed and damaged due to the introduction of bacteria into your blood stream. Because your mouth contains millions of bacteria, the open wound caused by an oral piercing is an easy way for bacteria to enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart.3

Drooling: Oral jewellery can cause excessive saliva production in your mouth, leading to excessive drooling.

Impaired Chewing or Swallowing: Oral piercings can interfere with food, your tongue, and smooth passage of objects in the mouth.

Impaired Speech: Oral piercings can cause you to lisp or slur, impairing or changing your speech patterns.4

Possible Nerve Damage: Nerves in your tongue can be potentially damaged by an oral tongue piercing causing permanent numbness, loss of feeling or decreased movement of your tongue.4

Permanent Scarring & Keloids: Unfortunately, any form of piercing results in permanent scarring after the piercing has been removed. While scars may fade over time, they will not disappear on their own. As well, it is not uncommon for an unattractive overgrowth of scar tissue (called a “keloid”) to form around the area of your oral piercing.

10 tips to minimize the health risks of an oral piercing

Share this handy infograph that shows 10 tips to help minimize the health risks of your oral or facial piercing, and follow the tips for optimal health.

Keep reading to learn how to help prevent infection and properly care for your oral or facial piercing.

Tip 1: Do your research. Carefully consider all the risk factors before deciding to undergo a piercing procedure. Oral and facial piercings can cause long-lasting or permanent side effects, such as painful infections, nerve damage or scars. If you do decide to proceed, ensure the piercing studio is highly recommended, clean, and uses sterilized instruments & disposable gloves. Reputable piercing studios should always be willing to answer your questions about health and safety.

Tip 2: Keep it clean. Always make sure you wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before cleaning and or handling your oral piercing. Rinse the area around your oral piercing and mouth with an alcohol-free oral antiseptic mouthwash (or salt water solution), at least twice per day, for 30-60 seconds. Ideally, the best time to rinse your mouth is after each meal, before you go to sleep each night and when you wake up each morning. Alternatively, you can rinse with a dilute saline (salt water) solution.

No mouthwash? Try this Altima Dental life hack and make your own quick and easy dilute oral rinse at home:

  • Clean all utensils, cups and pots with dish soap and hot water before using.
  • Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of salt (non-iodized sea salt is recommended) into 1 cup (8 ounces) of warm (not hot!) water (distilled water is recommended).
  • When making your saline solution, it’s important to remember that adding more salt than recommended is NOT better. In fact, a saline solution with too much salt can actually burn your oral piercing and cause irritation to the site.
  • Swish saline solution in your mouth and around your piercing site for at least 30 seconds.
  • Expel the liquid into a sink (do not swallow it).
  • Do not drink or eat for at least 30 minutes after your rinse.
  • Tightly seal or cover the rest of your saline solution.
  • Repeat as necessary throughout the day.
  • Make a fresh cup of saline solution each morning.

Note: Be careful not to over-do it, and over-cleanse the site, as this can delay the normal healing process, and may even increase your risk of oral infection.

Tip 3: Maintain good oral hygiene. Take extra, regular care to keep your mouth clean and keep food particles away from your piercing. Brush carefully twice per day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss daily.

Tip 4: Don’t touch. Keep fingers and all foreign objects away from your mouth, as they have additional bacteria that could further increase the risk of infecting your oral piercing site.

Tip 5: Select correct type, size & fit. After the piercing site has healed, you will likely need to change the jewellery to a smaller size to avoid intra-oral damage. You can also contact your piercer for a non-metallic jewellery alternative if your metal piercing must be temporarily removed, such as for a medical or surgical procedure.

Don’t play. Excessive talking, trauma, or playing with the piercing (especially during healing) can cause unsightly and uncomfortable scar tissue, piercing migration, permanent damage to teeth, gums, and other oral structures.

Tip 7: Keep it tight. Tighten your oral jewellery daily and make sure it is secure, in order to decrease your risk of swallowing or aspirating your oral jewellery.

Tip 8: Ban Bacteria. Avoid placing foreign objects in your mouth, and chewing on them, such as gum, sticky toffee/candy, fingernails, writing instruments, sunglasses, toothpicks, ice, straws, and anything else that could harbor bacteria or damage the piercing. Avoid sharing plates, cups, and utensils with others.

Tip 9: Stay Healthy. Improving your lifestyle boosts your immune system, helping with healing and preventing infection. Sleep well, eat nutritious foods, manage your stress levels, reduce alcohol consumption, stop smoking, take nutritional supplements (as advised by a doctor), limit caffeine intake, and avoid recreational drug use.

Tip 10: Dental Visits. Set up a regular hygiene appointment schedule (with text message reminders to your smartphone) at your local Altima Dental Centre.

Thinking about getting an oral or facial piercing? Already have one and want to care for it properly? Contact usfor your complimentary dental consultation* today.

*Includes a 15 minute consultation with a general dentist (excluding x-rays) where applicable. Fees may apply with a specialist.

Tips for parents

So, your teen wants to get an oral piercing – where do you begin?

1. Education: It’s important to begin by properly educating your teen about the long-term and serious health risks associated with oral piercings. Your teen may be surprised to learn that getting an oral piercing is a really BIG decision. They may re-consider if they know some of the potential side effects, such as chipped teeth, painful infections, lisps, drooling and/or permanent scarring.

2. Research: If your teen is still not convinced, help them find a reputable piercing studio to ensure health & safety is a priority and that risks are minimized. The majority of reputable piercing studios will:

  • Not allow anyone under 18 years old to get a piercing without consent from a parent/guardian
  • Be licenced and receive regular government health inspections
  • Look and smell clean
  • Use disposable instruments that come in sealed, sterile packages, and/or
  • Use non-disposable instruments that are properly sterilized in an autoclave
  • Use only non-toxic metals for piercings such as 14- or 24-carat gold, surgical steel, platinum or titanium
  • Have staff that are able to comfortably and confidently answer all your questions about health & safety

3. Proper care: If your teen decides to go ahead with getting an oral piercing (after careful thought and education), it’s important that you show them how to:

  1. Properly care for it
  2. Keep it clean

Is your teen thinking about getting an oral piercing? Contact us for your complimentary dental consultation* before or after the procedure, to ensure optimal dental health for your teen.

*Includes a 15 minute consultation with a general dentist (excluding x-rays) where applicable. Fees may apply with a specialist.


1Shmidt, Michelle, et al. (2014). Body Piercing in Adolescents and Young Adults. UpToDate.
Retrieved from: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/body-piercing-in-adolescents-and-young-adults

De Moor, R.J., De Witte, A.M. & De Bruyne, M.A. (2000). Tongue piercing and associated oral and dental complications [Electronic Version]. Dental Traumatology, 16(5), 232-37.

2Yu Hy, Katherine, et al. (2010). Bacterial Infections Complicating Tongue Piercing [Electronic Version]. Infectious Diseases & Medical Microbiology, 21(1), 70-74.

3Dubose, Joseph. (2004). Victim of fashion: Endocarditis after oral piercing [Electronic Version]. Journal of Surgical Education, 61(5), 474-477.

4Levin, Liran, Zadik, Yehuda & Becker, Tal. (2005). Oral and dental complications of intra-oral piercing [Electronic Version]. Dental Traumatology, 21(6), 341-43.

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