Certain types of body piercing have existed continuously since ancient times. Today, in most cultures, body piercing has become more acceptable in the general population than ever before in history.
Tongue piercing is especially popular with teens and young adults. Tongues are typically pierced by running a needle through the front third of the tongue, from top to bottom. Mouth jewelry, in the form of a removable stud, hoop or barbell-shaped device is inserted through the hole. No systematic research has been done on the after effects of tongue art, so it's impossible to say how likely it is that there will be complications from a tongue piercing, however, the American Dental Association officially does not support piercing in or around the mouth because of the potential for serious side effects. Negative effects from the piercing process or from wearing the jewelry can include pain, post-placement swelling, prolonged bleeding, gum injury, permanent numbness, loss of taste and oral hygiene problems. More serious side effects include speech impediments, injury or shrinkage of gums, damage to teeth, fillings, and other dental work, difficulty chewing or swallowing, cysts and prolonged blood loss immediately after the procedure. Infection is always a possibility - after all, you're creating an open wound in your mouth! - and includes the risk of contracting hepatitis, HIV and AIDS.
Tongue piercing also can result in an allergic reaction if the metals used in the jewelry are not of the highest quality. And even if the highest quality metal is used, all metal jewelry can injure the one thing that cannot easily be replaced, the beautiful enamel of your teeth. In a study done by a prominent university, of young adults who had worn a barbell through their tongue for at least 4 years, 47% had chipped teeth. Some studies show that the repeated bumping of the jewelry against teeth and gums causes gums to recede, setting the stage for periodontal (gum) disease.
However, if despite the warnings, you're still planning on having your tongue pierced, make sure it is done as hygienically as possible. Make sure your piercer is experienced and licensed and works in a sterile environment with sterile, disposable instruments. Ask your dentist for advice on oral hygiene while the piercing is healing, including advice on brushing to avoid inflaming the tongue, and use of mouthwash to clean areas that your toothbrush cannot reach. If you have a heart defect or a health condition that requires that you take preventive antibiotics before dental work, DO NOT under any circumstances, have a piercing done without seeing your doctor or dentist first. The needle inserted through your tongue during the piercing process opens your bloodstream to bacteria, which can lead to a life-threatening infection in your heart. Also, be sure to get regular dental check-ups. Whether you have a tongue piercing or not, a thorough examination of your gums and teeth are needed to identify problem areas or potential long term dental health concerns.