Most people consider body piercings to be a fun form of self-expression, or a convenient way to show off jewelry. However, what many people don’t realize is that piercings can bring health risks — especially oral piercings. A piercing in the tongue, lip or cheek area can cause anything from minor infections to major nerve damage. Let’s review the possible dangers of oral piercings and how the Periodontal Associates of Memphis team can help.

Consequences of Oral Piercings

Before getting an oral piercing, it’s important to understand the risks involved. Here are a few health problems that may occur if you get a piercing in or near your mouth.

Difficulty Chewing and Speaking

For many patients, an oral piercing interferes with the ability to chew properly. While this may not seem like a serious problem, it can have long-term consequences. Every time you chew, your top and bottom teeth contact each other, which stimulates your jawbone. If you don’t chew normally, your jawbone doesn’t get the stimulation it needs, which may result in the following:

  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Sagging skin
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Changes in facial structure

Oral piercings can also interfere with the ability to speak and pronounce certain words.

Tooth and Gum Damage

When you have an oral piercing, it may be tempting to play around with it using your hand or tongue. Unfortunately, this can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums. More specifically, this can lead to the following problems:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Scratches and cracks
  • Gum disease or recession
  • Cavities

While anyone with an oral piercing is susceptible to these problems, piercings are especially risky if you have fillings. Even a single piercing can inflict damage upon a filling, requiring you to get a replacement.

Tongue Swelling

A common consequence of oral piercings is tongue swelling. In the best-case scenario, the swelling is minor and resolves on its own — in the worst-case scenario, a swelling tongue blocks your airway and makes it difficult to breathe. Those who have allergies or are hypersensitive to metals may have a higher chance of experiencing swelling.


One of the biggest risk factors of oral piercings is infections. Common infections include hepatitis B and C, which are associated with the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite

In addition to causing painful symptoms, these infections can last for several months. In severe cases, they may cause liver damage or even cancer.

Excessive Drooling

Some oral piercings (particularly tongue piercings) are known to increase saliva production. As a result, the patient may start drooling excessively. Drooling is more than just an embarrassing cosmetic problem — it also negatively impacts your health. Those who drool excessively often develop a painful rash around their mouth (known as “drool rash”). It’s also common to start inhaling saliva, which may cause pneumonia.

Nerve Damage

One of the more serious risks of oral piercings is nerve damage. After receiving a piercing, many patients experience temporary numbing around the tongue. In some cases, however, this numbing sensation stays permanent. This can affect the following:

  • Sense of taste
  • Ability to move lips/mouth
  • Difficulty chewing and speaking

Nerve damage might also lead to fungal infections, viral infections and blood loss.

How to Properly Care for an Oral Piercing

While an oral piercing may look cool, the risks outweigh the benefits. If you decide to get a piercing, you greatly increase the chance of developing gum disease, getting cavities and even sustaining nerve damage. Some patients, however, may be aware of the dangers and still want a piercing anyway. In these cases, it’s important to follow proper care routines to lower the risk of experiencing adverse effects. Here are some key ways to care for an oral piercing.

Be Careful During the Healing Period

Most oral piercings come with a three to four-week healing period. During this time, you should be extra careful by following these steps:

  • Rinse the jewelry after meals
  • Avoid spicy, salty and acidic foods
  • Avoid hot beverages
  • Take small bites of food
  • Chew slowly

If you don’t follow these guidelines, you increase the risk of swelling and infection.

Brush the Jewelry

When your oral piercing is healing, it’s important to remove it after every meal and before going to sleep, then rinse it with a saltwater solution. Once the healing is done, you don’t have to maintain the piercing as frequently — however, it still requires regular cleaning. While instructions may vary depending on the piercing, most patients should take out the jewelry every night and clean it with a toothbrush and toothpaste. It should also be removed before playing sports.

Look Out for Signs

The best way to prevent serious or long-term health consequences is by recognizing the signs of infections. Those with oral piercings should look out for the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Rashes
  • Swelling
  • Bad odors
  • Fever

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dentist or healthcare provider immediately.

Treatments for Oral Piercing Problems

Whether you have one oral piercing or several, it’s important to carefully monitor your health and be prepared for the risks. Even a seemingly small problem, such as tooth sensitivity, can develop into something more severe. The good news is, most of the potential consequences are treatable. At Periodontal Associates of Memphis, our team has years of experience in diagnosing and resolving oral problems connected to piercings (including chipped teeth, cavities and tooth decay). Our services include:

Dr. Godat and Dr. King will start by evaluating your piercing and mouth to determine the severity of the problem. Then, they’ll devise a comprehensive treatment plan designed to restore your oral health to prime condition. If you’d like to learn more about how the Periodontal Associates of Memphis team can help patients with oral piercings, feel free to contact us today!