Lip and Tongue Piercings:Harmless Angst or Dental Danger

Tongue piercing was the edgy new trend in the 1990s, and continues to be popular among today’s alternative youth; around 14 percent of U.S. adolescents have orofacial piercings. However, despite the good hygiene and material design of modern piercing studios, tongue and lip jewelry can lead to gingival recession and alveolar bone loss, which experts report, is not particularly cool.

According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology, incidence of gingival irritation and bone loss is 45.8 percent higher in patients with any kind of oral piercing. Tongue studs are the most disruptive, and lip piercings are somewhat less irritating to the gingival tissue, depending on the material of the backing. Thrush, gingivitis, chipping and bone loss are much more common in those with oral piercings.

A case study reported in the European Journal of Pediatric Dentistry is a perfect example. A 15-year-old female patient presented with mild swelling and pain in her lower front teeth. According to the study authors, “both central mandibular incisors were non-vital and mild mobility was observed. Loss of clinical attachment was detected by probing on both teeth,” despite good oral health overall. The clinician also observed chipping of the affected teeth. Radiographs revealed almost complete bone loss in the periapical region, necessitating extensive restorative work.

The patient’s dentist traced the cause of her complaints to her tongue stud, but despite the clinician’s advice she refused to permanently remove her piercing. Clinical photographs at the completion of treatment show her continuing to wear it, albeit with a smaller barbell.

If you have patients with facial jewelry, warn them of the risks associated with it and suggest that they consider only occasional wear, or swapping out metal barbells for plastic ones. Advise these patients not to flick their piercing against their teeth, as this can cause chipping. Despite how cool it may sound, it’s actually the sound of bone loss in the making.


Body Piercing Statistics. (2015, March 17). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from

Markovic, D., Bajkin, B., & Petrovic, B. (2014). Substantial bone loss in the mandibular central incisors area as a complication of tongue piercing: A case report. European Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, 15(1), 75-77. Retrieved December 8, 2015.

Pires, I., Cota, L., Oliveira, A., Costa, J., & Costa, F. (2010). Association between periodontal condition and use of tongue piercing: A case-control study. Journal of Clinical Periodontology.