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For Immediate Release

Contact: Richard T. Koenig
Phone: 202-547-7613
Fax: 202-546-1482

Oral Piercing Jewelry Can Increase Risk for Tooth Loss, Researchers Report

Washington, DC -- Having one's tongue, lips or cheeks pierced and ornamented with jewelry might be hip and socially desirable, but those mouth adornments could produce undesirable results for the teeth and gums. According to the cover story in the July 2003 Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), these undesirable results include increased risk for recessed gums, loose teeth and even tooth loss. Additional consequences could include chipped or fractured teeth, pain, infection, and inflammation or nerve damage at the piercing site. The JADA article references the most commonly pierced oral sites as the tongue and lip at 81 percent and 38.1 percent, respectively. Tongue piercing may damage gum tissue behind the lower front teeth, while lip piercing may injure gum tissue in front of the lower teeth, according to the article.

In the article, the authors present five case reports of young adults with intraoral and perioral piercing jewelry and the health of their gums adjacent to the jewelry. In each of the cases, the subjects exhibited some degree of gum recession and gum injury near the site of their oral jewelry. Three of the patients had probing depths or pockets (spaces between teeth and gums) around the teeth that ranged from 5 to 8 millimeters, which may indicate moderate to severe periodontitis. Probing depths indicate the amount of attachment loss or depth of pockets that have developed between the gums and teeth. When the attachment loss is severe, the teeth can loosen, fall out or require removal by a dentist.

In one case report, a healthy 19-year-old woman wore a barbell-like piece of jewelry through her tongue. The tongue had undergone piercing approximately 12 months earlier. The periodontal examination revealed a probing depth of 6 mm around tooth No. 25 (bottom mid-front tooth). However, upon examination five months later, there was gum recession and the probing depth increased to 8 mm, with the tooth's prognosis classified as guarded. Severe attachment loss can develop even when gingival recession is minimal, so it is critical that patients with oral piercing routinely undergo a comprehensive periodontal assessment.

In addition to tooth loss, Dr. Dana Greenwald, a member of the District of Columbia Dental Society, and who has a private practice in pediatric dentistry in upper northwest Washington, DC, notes that a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that tongue piercing is associated with a number of complications related primarily to the vascularity of the tongue. The NIH has identified tongue piercing as a possible means of transmitting HIV, hepatitis (B,C,D,and G), herpes simplex, and Epstein-Barr virus. Also, while local infection is the most common complication, if not treated promptly it can lead to Ludwig's angina and possible airway compromise.

For more information about oral health issues, visit www.dcdental.org and the American Dental Association Web site at www.ada.org.

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