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Piercing Tongue Self-Expression or Health Risk?

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

My son's friend got his tongue pierced, and now my 13 year old son thinks it's cool and wants to get one. Is tongue piercing safe? Should I discourage my son or let him have his self-expression? He may do this no matter what I say anyway.


Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom,

There are numerous serious complications from tongue piercing, so it would be wise to discourage your son from having the piercing by explaining all the health risks associated with the procedure. Tongue piercing may be "cool," but can lead to large dental and doctor bills later on. Besides infection, tongue piercing could lead to gum disease and tooth loss.

In addition, your son may not be able to get a piercing without your permission. Depending on where you live, there could be state or local laws prohibiting minors from getting piercings without parental consent.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that its members discourage patients from having oral piercing by educating patients about the health risks. Below are 12 health risks reported by the ADA ( that are associated with tongue piercing.


1. Severe bleeding or nerve damage: if the needle punctures a blood vessel during the piercing, severe and difficult-to-control bleeding could occur.

2. Infection: the mouth contains millions of bacteria, and bacterial infection is a common complication from tongue piercing.

3. Pain: healing time prolonged.

4. Swelling: the tongue could swell large enough to close off the airway.

5. Disease transmission: The National Institutes of Health ( has identified piercing in general as a possible vector for blood borne hepatitis (hepatitis B, C, D and G) transmission. In addition, there is risk of other disease transmission such as HIV.

6. Choking hazard: tongue jewelry could come loose in the mouth creating a choking hazard.

7. Chipped or cracked teeth: tongue jewelry can chip or crack the teeth.

8. Enamel loss: tongue jewelry can increase the risk of damage to teeth enamel.

9. Recessed gums: The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) has reported that tongue piercing increases the risk for recessed gums.

10. Tooth loss: The JADA has reported that tongue piercing increases the risk for loose teeth and tooth loss.

11. Scar tissue formation: thick scarring could form at the piercing site.

12. Speech Interference: tongue jewelry can interfere with speech.

For more information on piercings, see