Turning 18 is a milestone for teens: You can vote and fight for your country and are legally an adult.
Being old enough, though, to choose to get an oral piercing, such as one on your lip or in your tongue, puts you at risk for tooth fractures, gum disease or even tooth loss, according to researchers.
A study from Tel Aviv University of 18-and 19- year-olds with oral piercings showed that 15 to 20 percent were at high risk for tooth fractures and gum disease. The high rate of fractures wasn't found in other age groups.
Dr. Steve Adair, a professor in the department of pediatric dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia, said he can't validate the statistics of just one study in one geographic location, but he cautioned that teens and oral piercings aren't a good combination.
Risks include infection at the site of the piercing, nerve damage and gum disease, he said. The enamel could get cracked from the jewelry bumping up against their tooth.
Marti French, a body piercer and the owner of A Dermagraphic Production in Augusta, said good hygiene and care are essential after an oral piercing.
Like an injury, it is something to take care of, she said.
She tells customers to replace the surgical steel jewelry with a softer, hypoallergenic acrylic piece after the piercing heals.
Ms. French said she won't give an oral piercing to anyone younger than 18 -- and she checks IDs. The average age of her oral-piercings customers is 22 to 23.
The dress codes for Richmond and Columbia county school systems outlaw body piercing.
A concern that Dr. Adair has about oral piercings is the germs in the mouth. Even if you swabbed to try to disinfect the area, you wouldn't get all of the germs.
"It's not a clean situation," he said.
Ms. French said the piercing and the instrument used in it make for a sterile "one-use operation."
After the piercing, teens need to keep the area clean to prevent infection and gum disease, which can be a problem.
"Teenagers are not known for great oral hygiene," Dr. Adair said.
Teens with certain heart conditions run the risk that an oral piercing can cause an infection in the heart.
Those with other medical conditions might be at risk for complications, so he urges teens to seek a doctor's advice before obtaining a piercing.
Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONSIDERING AN ORAL PIERCING?
Here's what to ask yourself before obtaining a piercing, and how to keep it clean if you do:
- MCG professor Steve Adair says his recommendation is to just say no: "This is not a good idea to do."
- Improve your oral hygiene; make sure you're brushing twice a day and flossing.
- Make sure gums are free of inflammation (a sign of gum disease).
- Always wear a mouth guard when participating in sports to protect your mouth.
- Inspect the area around the piercing.
- Go to the dentist for checkups.
- Follow the instructions given to you by the piercer.
- Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.
- Use an antiseptic mouth rinse.
- "Oral hygiene is very important," piercer Marti French said.
- Sucking on ice will lessen swelling.
- After you are healed, replace original jewelry with hypoallergenic acrylic jewelry.
Source: Marti French, the owner and body piercer at A Dermagraphic Production