The case of the 'second tongue'

Body piercing is popular today in the United States and other western societies. One common type of body piercing is tongue piercing, which involves placing a "barbell"-type stud through the tongue. But wearing a tongue stud puts people at risk for chipped teeth, recessed gums, and nerve damage, warns the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

However, most people don't realize that getting an oral piercing also places them at risk for developing a fatal infection or, in some cases, a mini-tongue, according to a report in the January/February 2006 issue of General Dentistry, the AGD's clinical, peer-reviewed journal.

In the report, a young woman's pierced tongue developed a large, round lump adjacent to the piercing. The lump, which she called her "second tongue," didn't hurt, nor was it infected, but it was growing. This mass was determined to be a scar tissue formation. Improvement was noted after oral hygiene was increased (frequent use of mouthwash and hydrogen peroxide mouthwash) and the tongue stud was replaced with a shorter shaft.

"Keep the wound clean. Make sure the bar is short so food and bacteria won't enter the site," advises Ellis Neiburger, DDS, lead author of the study. "Replace the metal barbell heads with plastic ones."

The number of adults between ages 21 and 31 who have their tongue pierced continues to increase, notes Melvin K. Pierson, DDS, FAGD, AGD spokesperson, despite his efforts to educate his patients about the dangers.

Although this article cited an extreme case, there are some very common dangers associated with tongue piercing. Unclean piercing equipment can cause other infections, such as bloodborne hepatitis. Also, if a patient is not instructed to avoid touching the piercing, they might spread infections with their own fingers.

"I see a lot of damage caused by piercing---tooth fractures, tooth chips. Patients don't see the relation between them and piercing, which weakens the tooth. The damage is almost always in the pre-molars, the middle teeth, almost parallel to the piercing," says Dr. Pierson. "The best way to prevent damage is to not get your tongue pierced."

"I don't recommend piercing," says Dr. Pierson. "Because of the risks associated with this unregulated procedure, if someone is considering an oral piercing, he or she should discuss it with their medical or dental professional."

Hazards of tongue piercing:

  • Infection due to unsterile instruments.
  • Pierced blood vessel or artery.
  • Development of scar tissue.
  • Tooth fractures and chips.

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    The Academy of General Dentistry is a non-profit organization of more than 35,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up-to-date in the profession through continuing education. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patient's oral health needs. Learn more about AGD member dentists or find more information on dental health topics at www.agd.org/consumer.


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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