Oral piercings can be risky, dentist warns
Improper care can lead to chipped teeth, receding gums
BY ALEXANDRA ZABJEK, EDMONTON JOURNAL JULY 23, 2015
EDMONTON - When Amy Hewko was 17 years old, she was writing an exam and — as she often did at that time — playing with and biting her lip ring.
“I haven’t known anybody who’s had an oral piercing that doesn’t play with it,” said Hewko, now 25. “There would be times when I would bite down on my lip ring quite hard. It would hurt, but the time I chipped my tooth there was no real pain, no real hard bite. I just remember hearing a crunch. My tooth had essentially buckled.”
Hewko now works at the University of Alberta where the new head of periodontology in the school of dentistry has studied the health risks associated with lip and tongue piercings. Some of the most significant risks for oral health are chipped teeth and gum recession.
“People tend to think it’s an innocent procedure, that it’s like another piece of jewelry that you wear around your neck. But it’s not,” said Dr. Liran Levin, whose research on the topic has appeared in publications such as the American Journal of Dentistry.
Levin said his studies have shown that about 30 per cent of the patient population with tongue or lip piercings experienced gum recession — a high number when studying those who are approximately 18 years old. About 10 per cent of those without such piercing experienced those gum problems. About 30 per cent of those with those piercings experienced chipped teeth.
Gum recession can occur due to continuous irritation or bacterial infection either on the gum or on the piece of jewelry itself.
“It (causes) an inflammatory process in the gums that can cause at first soft tissue recession, like gum recession. But then also hard tissue recession; the bone can be lost because of this inflammatory process,” Levin said.
If people are going to get oral piercings, Levis said they should take precautions such as visiting a professional piercer, cleaning the area carefully, and getting regular dental checkups.
Hewko had researched the possibility of gum disease before getting her lip pierced at 16. She removed her lip ring about a year after chipping her tooth.
“I ultimately decided that you only have one set of teeth, that’s all you get. It’s not like you can fix a broken bone, you can’t fix a broken tooth, you can cap it, put a bond on it, but you can’t regrow it.”
Emaleigh Whitwick, 21, has a labret, a lip piercing in the middle of her lower lip. She removed another two lip rings after one was pierced at an angle, leaving the flat backing of the piercing digging into her lip. It caused swelling, bleeding and irritation.
Whitwick thinks the piercing was done incorrectly and concedes she shouldn’t have paid a rock-bottom price to get it done.
But she wouldn’t discourage people from oral piercings entirely.
“Just as long as they’re done correctly in a proper environment by someone who actually knows what they’re doing, things should go smoothly. Of course, after-care and maintenance to make sure they’re not affecting your oral health are important.”