Tongue Piercing Damages Teeth, Gums

March 27, 2002 -- Tongue piercing may not just be hard on parents' eyes but may also be damaging to kids' teeth and gums. A new study shows extended wear of barbell-type tongue jewelry can cause receding gums and chipped teeth.

Tongue piercing has grown in popularity among young adults in recent years, and an increasing number of dental and mouth problems have been linked to the practice. To get a better understanding of the problems tongue piercing may cause, researchers examined the mouths of 52 young adults with pierced tongues. Their study is published in the March issue of Journal of Periodontology

The most common type of tongue jewelry is known as a barbell. It consists of a stem that goes through the tongue and is held in place with screw caps on both ends. The study found the type of damage caused by the tongue piercing varied according to the length of the barbell stem.

Nearly half of the participants who wore either long or short barbells for four or more years had chipped teeth. But the frequency of chipping was much greater among those wearing short-stemmed (less than 5/8 of an inch) barbells.

Researchers say short barbells are more likely to cause tooth chipping because it's easier to position between the teeth. People with tongue piercing tend to habitually bite the barbell.

The study found receding gums, a problem that can lead to tooth loss, in 35% of those who had pierced tongues for four or more years and in 50% who had worn the long-stemmed barbells for two or more years. Researchers say that during tongue movement, long-stemmed barbells are more likely to reach and damage the gums than short barbells.

"Given this new information, I strongly recommend discussing potential risk factors with your dentist before mouth piercing," says Kenneth Bueltmann, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, in a news release. "Taking precautions now will increase your chance of keeping your teeth for a lifetime instead of needing dentures like many of your grandparents."