A new study published in the March Journal of Periodontology found that extended wear of tongue jewelry (barbell-type) could increase your chance of gum recession and tooth chipping.
Researchers from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry and Ohio State University College of Dentistry examined and surveyed 52 young adults with pierced tongues. They found gum recession in 35 percent of subjects with pierced tongues for four or more years, and in 50 percent wearing long-stemmed barbells for two or more years.
"During tongue movement, long-stem barbells are more likely to reach and damage the gums than short barbells," said Dr. Dimitris Tatakis, professor of periodontology at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry and coauthor of the study. "Over time, this damage may cause the gums to recede, which can lead to more serious dental/oral complications."
Additionally, 47 percent of young adults wearing either type of barbell for four or more years had chipped teeth. The prevalence of tooth chipping was significantly greater in those wearing short-stemmed barbells (1/4 inch - 5/8 inch) for four or more years. Researchers believe tooth chipping is a result of habitual biting of the barbell.
"A short barbell is possibly easier to position between teeth, which could be one reason why we are seeing more chipped teeth in this group," said Tatakis. "Another factor that was not investigated could be the size or material type of the screw caps attached to the barbell."
Dr. Timothy Roberts from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York presented study results on 4,500 adolescents aged 12 to 21 and found that teens with body piercings are more likely to smoke cigarettes, use drugs and exhibit other types of unhealthy behavior. Study findings were presented at the Society of Adolescent Medicine's annual meeting in Boston.
"Mouth piercings and smoking combined could cause a mouthful of trouble," said Dr. Kenneth Bueltmann, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "As a smoker, you are more likely than nonsmokers to have calculus on your teeth, deep pockets between your teeth and gums and loss of the bone and tissue that support your teeth. Combine these problems with gum recession from tongue piercing and you are on your way to having a serious infection called periodontal disease and not to mention a not so cool looking mouth."
"Given this new information, I strongly recommend discussing potential risk factors with your dentist before mouth piercing," said Bueltmann. "Additionally, anyone with a pierced mouth should receive a thorough oral examination of their gums and teeth to identify problem areas. Taking precautions now will increase your chance of keeping your teeth for a lifetime instead of needing dentures like many of your grandparents."
In addition to periodontal diseases (serious bacterial infections that destroy the attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold your teeth in your mouth) tongue piercing may cause other complications such as tongue swelling, difficulties with chewing, swallowing and speech, increase of saliva flow, localized tissue overgrowth and metal hypersensitivity.
A referral to a periodontist and free oral health brochures are available by calling 800-FLOSS-EM or visiting the AAP's Web site at www.perio.org.