Metal Tongue Piercings Linked to Raised Infection
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 19 (HealthDay News) -- If you're considering
tongue piercing as a form of self-expression, know that new
research suggests that whether the stud used is metal or plastic
makes a difference when it comes to chances of infection.
Stainless steel studs may collect more bacteria than plastic
studs, potentially increasing the risk of infection and other
complications, a team of European researchers reports.
"Consumers should avoid stainless steel and titanium studs in favor of [plastic], not only because of bacteria and a potentially higher risk of local infection of the piercing channel, but also because of the risk of tooth chipping and gum recession," study author Dr. Ines Kapferer, of Innsbruck Medical University in Austria, said in a statement.
Tooth chipping and receding gums, as well as gum disease, are
some of the long-term complications associated with tongue
piercing, prior research shows. Early complications include pain,
swelling, prolonged bleeding and swallowing difficulties. What's
more, the mouth contains so many bacteria that the piercing
procedure itself may increase the risk of infection, one of the
most common piercing complications.
One source of infection may be thin layers of bacteria, called
biofilms, that coat piercings and act as a reservoir for germs,
according to Kapferer and colleagues. They speculated that using
piercing materials that were less susceptible to biofilm
accumulation may reduce infection risk. To test their theory, the
study authors recruited male and female students throughout
Innsbruck whose tongues had been pierced for at least six
After conducting dental exams, the researchers randomly replaced
the students' studs with one of four common piercing materials:
stainless steel, titanium, or one of two types of plastic. The
studs were removed after two weeks and microbiological samples were
collected from the stud, the piercing site and the tongue.
A total of 80 different species of bacteria were collected from
the various sites and the tongue harbored most of the bacteria, the
researchers reported in the Jan. 18 online edition of the
Journal of Adolescent Health.
Eighteen bacterial species were more abundant in the piercing
site than on the tongue and six species were more prevalent on
studs than the tongue. Eight other species were more plentiful on
studs than in piercing sites.
Stainless steel studs were the biggest culprit, accounting for
the highest bacteria counts, followed, to a much lesser degree, by
titanium studs, the researchers reported. Bacteria found on these
metals included those known to cause body-wide infections, such as
Staphylococcus aureus and
Haemophilus influenza. Both metals had significantly greater bacteria counts than did plastic studs.
Yet, this accumulation of bacteria may not be the biggest worry,
said Dr. Valerie Murrah, of the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. "As an oral pathologist, I'm concerned with infections
of the tongue," she said, noting the importance of sterile piercing
Among the 80 study participants, who ranged in age from 16 to 36
years, 23 (29 percent) also reported receding gums and four (5
percent) had at least one chipped tooth. On average, most had had
their tongue piercing for five years.
"No matter what material [the stud] is made of, it's going to hit the back of the front teeth," said Dr. Ruchi Nijjar Sahota, a dentist in Fremont, Calif. "Most of the patients I've seen have developed either a gum infection or had some sort of trauma to their teeth because of the tongue ring," said Sahota, who is also a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.
The American Dental Association currently opposes tongue
piercing due to such potential complications, according to their
Sahota stopped short of warning against tongue piercing
altogether, however. "I never want to be a killjoy," she said.
"Just realize the risk of what you're doing."
"There are other ways to decorate that are less dangerous," added Murrah. "We only have two sets of teeth."
For more information on tongue piercing, visit the
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