Lip, cheek and tongue piercings, as well as tongue splitting and inner lip tattoos, have all become popular means of self-expression. While these forms of body art can have zero complications when performed properly, there are inherent risks involved with having the procedure completed. Moreover, it's imperative to have piercings and tattoos done in healthy and safe facilities for the sake of your oral health and overall well-being. Before you opt to have your face tattooed or pierced, consider the risk factors that accompany each procedure:
Lip and tongue piercings
Oral piercings raise a high number of risks for both your general and dental health. According to the American Dental Association, in worst case scenarios these piercings can cause serious infections such as hepatitis or endocarditis.1 While this may represent the extreme, more common symptoms of oral piercings include problems with chewing, swallowing and speaking. When these piercings are initially performed, they can cause swelling that may be severe enough to block your airway and make it difficult to breathe. The ADA notes that this is particularly dangerous because if part of the jewelry comes loose and falls out, it may obstruct the throat entirely and cause a person to choke.
Depending on the placement of these piercings, jewelry can also be hazardous to your smile. The hard surface of the jewelry constantly colliding with a tooth may cause it to chip or crack over time, especially if you get in the habit of clicking your tongue. Keeping these piercings clean and sanitized requires increased hygienic measures and your dentist should be notified right away if you exhibit symptoms such as swelling, bleeding or streaking.
While tongue splitting is a much less common practice, it comes with a wide range of health risks. Tongue splitting is the process of dividing the tongue into two segments down the middle so it has the forked look of a lizard. This procedure should not be performed at a tattoo and piercing parlor and the ADA discourages tongue splitting entirely.2 Many states have laws that mandate that this procedure must be done by a surgeon or other medical expert, but often people find parlors to perform tongue splitting illegally.
If you're set on having this procedure done, consider that tongue splitting has a major risk of causing excessive bleeding, which is one of the main reasons it needs to be performed by a medical professional.
"The most dangerous risks of tongue splitting are potential blood loss, infection and speech problems. It's hard to keep track of complications because very few people report doing it," Dr. Karol Gutowski, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a plastic surgeon, told the Badger Herald. "There is a great danger of contracting diseases from non-sterilized needles or improper instruments. Therefore, it should be handled as a medical operation performed by a doctor with the appropriate equipment, in case something goes wrong."3
"Oral tattoos often fade within one or two years."
Oral tattoos usually consist of a few characters or simple design hidden on the inner lower or upper lip. Due to saliva and moisture from drinks and food, these tattoos only last for a short period of time and must be constantly touched up, which increases the risk of infection. The high amount of bacteria present in the mouth also increases infection risk. Keep in mind that these tattoos can cause damage to lip veins and smudge, leaving ink on the lips and gums as well, according to Scarsdale Dental Spa.4
1 "Oral piercings," the American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-piercings
2 "ADA Statement on Intraoral/Perioral Piercing and Tongue Splitting," the American Dental Association, October 2012. http://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/oral-piercing
3 "A split tongue brings pain and pleasure," by Jamie Siegel, The Badger Herald, April 15, 2004. https://badgerherald.com/news/2004/04/15/a-split-tongue-bring/
4 "Oral Piercings and Oral Tattoo Risks," by Dr. Greene, Scarsdale Dental Spa & Wellness, Oct. 9, 2014. http://www.scarsdaledentalspa.com/oral-piercings-oral-tattoo-risks/