Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tongue Piercings - a Bacterial and Inflammatory Nightmare

As autoimmune patients, we know that inflammation is our enemy.  We should try to avoid anything that can cause inflammation, when we can.  Any reason to make our immune systems work harder is not usually a good thing, especially bacteria.  The same can be said for other health conditions such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia or Migraine where increased inflammation may play a roll.  So, what about tongue piercings?

I'm 46, but I have 2 kids and live near 2 colleges, so the idea of piercing body parts isn't exactly new.  Really, I'm okay with it so long as the piercings are clean and healthy, and not completely *in my face*.  I saw someone once with their lips laced shut.  That was too much even for my comparatively progressive attitude I'm afraid.  :)  But I digress...

One of those piercings that has bothered me a little more than most others, is the tongue.  This comes completely from a health standpoint.  I couldn't help but wonder about tongue-piercing facts.  Even though I expected to find some negatives (after all, you just poked a hole through a very important muscle) I admit I was surprised at the information I found...

Bacteria counts skyrocketed in those with tongue piercings, with about 80 species found to be common among those studied.  Biofilms are a coating of bacteria that cover both the jewelry but also the pierced channel.  Depending on the type of metal or plastic used some of the prevalent strains included staph and haemophilus influenza - very dangerous to have in your mouth.  (Kiss anyone?)

Receding gums were much more prevalent in those with tongue piercings (29% in one study).  One dentist stated that nearly all her patients with tongue rings come in at one time or other with gum infections or tooth trauma.  Chipped teeth are common.  I found at least one mention of a death as a result of secondary infection resulting from tongue piercing.

The ADA states that there are other things to consider as well:

  • increased salivation aka drool.  This may bother others much more than the person with the piercing however. 
  • gingival injury
  • damage to previous dental work - $$
  • interference with speech, chewing or swallowing
  • formation of scar tissue
  • development of metal hypersensitivities/allergies - this becomes very inconvenient if you need a pin in your leg or other implant
  • "fiddling" with the jewelry can increase the chance of infection
  • potential aspiration of the jewelry if it comes loose
  • jewelry can obscure other problems in the mouth/face that may then evade detection
  • risk of endocarditis, tetanus, localized tuberculosis, hepatititis B, C, D, and G and transmission of those diseases to others  

On the other hand, despite these findings and warnings, a study concluded that although biofilms may be worse in those with piercings - especially stainless steel - it did not appear to cause increased infections in the research subjects.  Were they more careful?  Hmm...  A dentist - Dr Denek - suggests that those with pierced tongues should leave the posts alone and not handle them to prevent the transfer of bacteria from hands onto the jewelry and into the mouth.

Dr Oz's website mentions the cost of tongue piercings.  What may seem like a small investment initially may indeed be a very costly way to express yourself, both in terms of your health but also in cold hard cash.  Something else to consider when considering tongue piercing.

Again, as autoimmune patients, we want to avoid inflammation whenever and wherever we can.  I'm wondering how many autoimmunies have tongue piercings or other piercings that may be causing them additional and needless inflammatory problems?  Would you still consider piercing your tongue after reading the risks? 

Have you ever kissed someone with a tongue ring and now think you will have nightmares of the bacteria you likely swallowed?

Additional sources:  
US News and World Report
medpage today

Comment by mandy on January 21, 2011 at 2:05pm
What an interesting post, Ellen! I've got a nose ring so I completely understand an individual's right/need to self-expression or simple desire to wear more jewelry, but one thing to add to that list is distraction. Sometimes, it's hard to listen to what someone is saying and take them seriously, when my focus is drawn to the shiny object in his or her mouth. And it's true, some don't seem to talk like the used to and the drooling is unfortunate. Knowing that the tongue is such an important, complex muscle, I often wondered what risks there were with piercing it. Now I know! Luckily, most friends have taken them out by now :)

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