Poking a hole in oral health – Author Dawn Woodward Curaprox UK

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  Posted by: Dental Design      11th August 2019

The chances are that you or at least one other person that you know has a tattoo or piercing. What were once popular body modification techniques among a select few subcultures have quickly become mainstream trends within many communities across the globe. No matter whether you’re a fan of them or not, tattoos and piercings have a long, fascinating, complex and often controversial history. It is well documented that some of the world’s most ancient civilisations adorned themselves with tattoos and piercings for various different reasons – including to communicate class, keep a record of experiences, identify as part of a group, or serve as a rite of passage.

Within modern western cultures, in particular, tattoos and piercings have become more of an artistic form of self-expression. Nobody knows for sure where exactly these body modification techniques came from, but Ötzi the Iceman – the oldest mummy ever discovered – had numerous tattoos and pierced ear holes that gauged between 7 to 11mm in diameter.[i],[ii]Having lived at around 3,300 BC, Ötzi is vital evidence that body modification has been a relatively constant and important practise since the dawn of humanity. The purpose of tattooing or piercing varies from culture to culture, with many of these body modifications carrying a great deal of meaning, which is why they continue to be a significant topic in conversations regarding cultural appropriation. 

In the UK, body modification techniques have always fallen in and out of fashion, but it seems piercings have become particularly popular in recent years among various social and age groups. The reasons for this remain disputed, but perhaps it is largely to do with the fact that piercings are often more affordable, easily concealed, and less time-consuming to perform than tattoos. Nevertheless, piercings are no longer limited to the earlobes – both men and women have the choice of piercing various different parts of the body. The prevalence of body piercing at sites other than the earlobes is greater among women than men, with nearly half of women aged 16 to 24 having had a piercing.[iii]Among the most sought after of these are oral piercings, which can include the tongue, lip, cheeks or uvula.

Research carried out by the Oral Health Foundation found that 43% of people in the UK have a tongue piercing and a third have a lip piercing, with cheek and gum piercings being much less common. The poll also revealed that 13% of people with oral piercings had more than one, further demonstrating the growing popularity of the trend.[iv]Although they may appear to be a bold fashion statement, many people remain unaware of the various short- and long-term risks associated with oral piercings. The most common problem related to oral piercings is dental trauma as a result of the piercing coming into frequent contact with the teeth and gums.[v]Individuals with tongue piercings are, in fact, 11 times more likely to develop gingival recession in the lower region of their anterior teeth, with the severity of the recession being significantly higher compared to those without piercings.[vi]

If done incorrectly or with unsterilised instruments, the act of piercing the mouth can cause pain, permanent numbness, excessive blood loss, and swelling – among other issues – which can affect an individual’s ability to breathe or swallow properly. There is also a risk that the piercing interferes with the movement of the tongue, thus affecting speech. Furthermore, the oral cavity itself harbours a significant number of bacteria and can serve as an ideal environment for infections to arise, which can quickly lead to other more serious conditions if left untreated – especially in the case of new oral piercings. One case study found that a patient with congenital heart disease had developed complications following the placement of a tongue piercing. Researchers speculated that the colonisation of bacteria around the patient’s piercing was likely to have caused bacteraemia and endocarditis.[vii]

Oral hygiene is key to preventing plaque from accumulating around a piercing, thereby reducing the risk of infection.[viii]Dental professionals should provide suitable advice and guidance to patients on maintaining good oral hygiene to ensure oral piercings are successfully managed during and after the healing period. It is essential that patients with oral piercings brush twice daily using a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristle toothbrush such as the CS 5460 manual toothbrush from Curaprox, which features ultra-soft CUREN® filaments and a compact brush head to facilitate gentle but effective cleaning – even in hard-to-reach areas of the oral cavity. Regular interdental cleaning and the use of an alcohol-free mouth rinse is also recommended.[ix]

As with anything else in life – from driving a car to playing sports – body modification techniques carry some risks. With oral piercings continuing to increase in popularity, it is important that patients are educated on the potential complications that can occur from piercing the mouth. This will enable them to make more informed decisions with regard to protecting their oral health and avoiding any potential side effects, so that they are free to enjoy their new body art.


For more information please call 01480 862084, emailinfo@curaprox.co.ukor visit www.curaprox.co.uk




[i]All That’s Interesting. (2016) Piercing: A Cultural History of Holes. Link: https://allthatsinteresting.com/history-of-piercing. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[ii]Owen, J. (2013) 5 Surprising Facts About Ötzi the Iceman. National Geographic. Link: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131016-otzi-ice-man-mummy-five-facts/. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[iii]Bone, A., Ncube, F., Nichols, T. and Noah, N. D. (2008) Body piercing in England: a survey of piercing at sites other than earlobe. BMJ (Clinical research ed.)336(7658): 1426–1428. doi:10.1136/bmj.39580.497176.25. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2432173/. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[iv]Oral Health Foundation. (2016) Don’t let piercings put a hole in your oral health. Link: https://www.dentalhealth.org/news/dont-let-piercings-put-a-hole-in-your-oral-health. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[v]Bagnall, S. (2011) Oral piercing & dental complications. Vital 9: 20-22. Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/vital1443. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[vi]Pires, I. L. O., Cota, L. O. M., Oliveira, A. C. B., Costa, J. E. and Costa, F. O. (2010) Association between periodontal condition and use of tongue piercing: a case-control study. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 37(8): 712-718. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-051X.2010.01584.x.

[vii]Akhondi, H. and Rahimi, A. R. (2002) Haemophilus aphrophilus endocarditis after tongue piercing. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 8(8): 850–851. doi:10.3201/eid0808.010458. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732525/. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[viii]King, E. M., Brewer, E. and Brown, P. (2018) A guide to oral piercings. BDJ Team. 5: 18106. Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/bdjteam.2018.106. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].

[ix]Minocha, J. S., Holbrook, J. S., West, D. P., Ghovanloo, M. and Laumann, A. E. (2014) Development of a tongue-piercing method for use with assistive technology. JAMA Dermatology150(4): 453–454. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.7165. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445083/. [Last accessed: 12.06.19].


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