Tongue piercings may look cool, but they can really hurt your teeth and gums. To date, the main problems reported have been infection, gum damage, tooth breakage and orthodontic issues.
Now we can add one more to the list: a greater potential for dental and other disease.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Medicine, the more common metal tongue studs – especially those made of stainless steel – collect much more pathogenic (“bad,” disease-causing) microbes than plastic ones.
Physician Ines Kapferer of the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria and colleagues identified 68 women and 12 men, average age 23, who had tongue piercings with studs inserted. The researchers examined tooth and gum health in each volunteer and removed the studs. The volunteers were then randomly assigned to get a new stud made of stainless steel, titanium, polypropylene (a plastic polymer) or polytetrafluorethylene (Teflon). After two weeks, the scientists removed those studs and took swabs of the tongue, the piercing canal and each stud itself.
Tests for 80 bacteria linked to illness or infection showed that 67 of the 80 species had accumulated substantially more on the stainless steel studs than on the polymers, and 28 of the bacteria showed up more on titanium than on the polymers.
Many of these bacteria typically occur in biofilms, a gummy combination of bacteria, cells, lipids, proteins, sugary molecular strands and other substances that build up on surfaces. The researchers speculate that stainless steel surfaces are more conducive to the formation of biofilms than plastics are.
Suffice it to say, and for obvious reasons, we’re no fans of tongue piercing. But we will say that if you have one already and intend to keep it, excellent oral hygiene is a must: regularly cleaning your teeth, gums and other oral tissues, as well as your tongue jewelry. While this won’t protect you against the other dental damage that a tongue piercing can do, it will help you keep biofilms at bay and minimize your risk of dental disease and infection.
Image by +illy+, via Flickr