Tongue Piercing

Tongue piercing may be damaging to teeth and gums. A new study shows extended wear of barbell-type tongue jewelry can cause receding gums and chipped teeth.

The most common type of tongue jewelry is known as a barbell, which 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.

Journal of Periodontology, 3/2003.

Barbell jewelry for the tongue.

People with tongue piercing tend to habitually bite the barbell.




  • Excessive drooling
  • Infection
  • Chipped and cracked teeth
  • Pain
  • Injuries to the gums
  • Swelling of tongue
  • Damage to fillings
  • Extreme swelling that can block airway
  • Increased salivary flow
  • Hypersensitivity to metals
  • Scar tissue
  • Nerve damage
  • Risk of endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves)
  • Can interfere with chewing
  • A “numb” tongue – temporary or permanent
  • Can interfere with speech
  • Impaired sense of taste
  • Blood loss
  • Touching the mouth jewelry can introduce infection
  • Jewelry can be swallowed, which can puncture intestine or bowel
  • Damage to teeth and gums can lead to need for dental reconstruction, which can be expensive
  • Possible allergic response to metals used in piercing
  • Jewelry can block x-rays
  • Jewelry needs constant attention and upkeep_
  • Gum recession
  • Barbell-type jewelry worn on the tongue can cause infection and damage teeth and gums.



Tattoos and Body Piercing

Tattoo art and body piercing, popular forms of self-expression, carries a risk of serious infection, including hepatitis C and HIV.

Tattoos have other hidden health hazards, beyond hepatitis and HIV risks. Some people find out they are sensitive to dyes. In a few cases, gangrene has developed from infection.

Infection from a body piercing is fairly common, ,” says David Rosen, MD, MPH, a professor of pediatrics in teenage and young adult medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. Also, some people have an allergic reaction to metal that is used. One in 10 will have a bleeding complication. One in 15 will have a large scar or reaction at the site. There’s also the possibility of toxic shock syndrome. If a nerve happens to get pierced, nerve damage can result. Piercing of the tongue has resulted in chipped teeth, he says.

When choosing a piercing or tattoo art studio, Rosen says, choose a place where:

Sterile supplies are used. You should be able to see the operator opening up sterile needles in front of you and throw them away afterward. An autoclave is used to sterilize equipment is between each use. Soaking instruments in alcohol is not enough. The operator uses fresh, disposable gloves. Those gloves should be replaced between procedures and after touching non-sterile items like money. Inks are never to be reused from person to person. Operators follow laws. If the state law prohibits anyone under age 18 from getting a tattoo — yet the studio is willing to tattoo a 16-year-old — “who knows what other rules they’re breaking,” says Rosen.

Also, consider the tattoo artist or body artist’s talent level. “This is something that will be on your body your whole life,” he adds. “Look for somebody who has some artistic flair, who will do an attractive job. Ask to see samples of their work.”

News release, Health Behavior News Service. David Rosen, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics, University of Michigan Health System.


Pi Dental Center, Fort Washington, PA