For young adults looking for yet another place to pierce their bodies, the tongue is an increasingly popular spot. However, a recent study published in the March issue of the Journal of Periodontology might make people think twice about getting the procedure done.

Paul Wong
Dominick Sovone of Southfield shows off his tongue ring on Saturday at Hash Bash. Studies say that tongue rings, while popular, may pose medical problems. BRETT MOUNTAIN/Daily

“I was running out of room on my ears, and I couldn’t pierce anything else that my parents wouldn’t notice,” LSA freshman Regina Tsang said. “It’s not even that shocking anymore; everyone and their grandmas have them,” she said.

Researchers examined 52 individuals with tongue piercings and found a high incidence of receding gums and chipped teeth.

“This is information that we didn’t have before,” said Dental Prof. Robert Eber. He said he has observed the same types of problems with past patients.

Tongue jewelry is typically rod-shaped with a ball on each end and is called a barbell. Researchers found that those who wore longer barbells had a greater incidence of gum recession. Almost 20 percent of the group had gum recession, but the percentage increased to 50 percent for those who wore long barbells.

Eber said the study had serious limitations. “You can’t really prove that the barbells or the tongue piercings caused the problem,” he said. Eber added that the study was not longitudinal and that there was no research done on a control group.

“Hopefully it’ll stimulate some further research in that area,” he said.

Tsang said the study’s findings would not affect her decision to keep her piercing, although she did not know about the risk of receding gumlines. She did know about the risk of chipped teeth.

“I changed the balls on my barbell from metal to plastic ones. … They’re less traumatic,” she said. “And I have a short barbell.”

Kerri Baker, an employee of Name Brand Tattoos on Church Street, said initially a long barbell is put in the piercing, which should eventually be switched to a short one.

“A lot of people don’t downsize,” she said. She also recommended switching the steel balls on barbells.

“Acrylic is better than steel because if you bite down on it, it will break and not chip your teeth.”

Baker said she has observed other problems with tongue jewelry not mentioned in the study.

“It definitely wears the enamel off your teeth,” she said. She added that not everyone can get the piercing safely done because of the location of their tongue veins.

“There’s a certain spot to pierce at,” she said. Baker said they turn away many potential customers if it cannot be done in that spot.

“A lot of other places will pierce anyone that comes in. If they pierce it crooked, it’s gonna rub in that same spot,” she said. “You can’t get your gums back once they recede.”

The study found the longer the individual’s tongue was pierced, the more likely it was that problems had developed. This does not concern students like LSA sophomore Kristine Ollarek, who doesn’t plan on keeping her piercing long term.

“I am pretty sure that once I graduate I will take it out since I will be going into the professional world,” Ollarek said.

She said she has not had any complications with her piercing.

“The only time that it was swollen and bothersome was right after I got it pierced,” she said. “I knew that tongue piercings were more dangerous than other kinds of piercings, but I did not really do any research on them because I really wanted to get it done no matter what.”

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