Tobacco use and tongue piercing can have a serious, and sometimes highly detrimental, effect on your oral health. Dr. Richard Healy and our team have provided this page of information to help you be more aware of the effect of tobacco and tongue piercing on your oral and overall health. For more information, and to make your appointment with our dentist in Santa Maria, California, please contact us at 805-928-3928.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of death in society.  Fortunately, it is also among the most preventable.  Aside from being a sociably undesirable habit, smoking can result in oral cancer, reduce smelling and tasting abilities, compromise recovery after oral surgery, stain the teeth, and increase the risk of contracting periodontal disease.  The American Dental Association (ADA) and all pediatric dentists encourage children, adolescents, and adults to abstain from all forms of tobacco use.

Almost all adult smokers have tried smoking before the age of nineteen.  In all likelihood, an individual who abstains from smoking throughout the teenage years will never pick up the habit.  Therefore, it is essential that parents strongly discourage preadolescent and adolescent tobacco use.

Is smokeless tobacco less dangerous for teens?

Tobacco use in any form brings the oral region into direct contact with carcinogens (cancer causing agents).  These carcinogens and other harmful chemicals cause irreparable damage to the child’s oral health.

Parents and teens often mistakenly evaluate smokeless tobacco as the “safer” option.  In fact, smokeless tobacco has been proven to deliver a greater concentration of harmful agents into the body, and to be far more addictive.  One snuff of tobacco has approximately the same nicotine content as sixty regular cigarettes.  In addition, smokeless tobacco causes leukoplakias in the mouth, which are dangerous pre-cancerous lesions.

What are the signs of oral cancer?

Oral cancer can be difficult to detect without the aid of the dentist.  In some cases, oral cancer is not noticeable or even painful until its later stages.  Parents of tobacco users must be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in the way the teeth fit together.
  • Difficulty moving the jaw.
  • Mouth sores that don’t heal.
  • Numbness or tenderness.
  • Red or white spots on the cheek, lip, or tongue.

Oral cancer is treatable if caught early.  Disfiguring surgery can be avoided by having the child abstain from tobacco use and getting regular preventative dental checkups.

How can I stop my child from using tobacco?

There are several ways to discourage children and adolescents from using tobacco products.  First, talking to the child personally about the dangers of tobacco use (or asking the dentist to talk to the child) has proven an effective preventative strategy.  Second, parents should lead by example. According to research studies, children of non-smokers are less likely to pick up this dangerous habit.  Third, monitor the child closely.  If the child will not cooperate, screenings for tobacco can be requested at the dental office.

If you have questions or concerns about your childhood tobacco use, please contact your pediatric dentist.

Tongue Piercing

There has been an upsurge in the number of teenagers getting tongue piercings.  Teenagers often view these piercings as a harmless expression of their growing individuality.  Oftentimes, parents allow teens to pierce their tongues because the metal bar is impermanent.  In addition, tongue bars are not as visually apparent as a tattoo or eyebrow piercing might be.

Unfortunately, tongue piercings can have a serious (even deadly) impact on health.  Pediatric dentists routinely advise adolescents to avoid intraoral or perioral piercings for a number of good reasons.

Why is tongue piercing harmful?

First, there are a growing number of unlicensed piercing parlors in throughout the country.  Such parlors have been recognized as potential transmission vectors for tetanus, tuberculosis, and most commonly, hepatitis.  Second, a great number of painful conditions can result from getting a tongue piercing – even in a licensed parlor.  These conditions include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Blood clots
  • Blood poisoning
  • Brain abscess
  • Chronic pain
  • Damaged nerves (trigeminal neuralgia)
  • Fractured/cracked teeth
  • Heart infections
  • Hypersensitivity reactions (to the metal bar)
  • Periodontal disease/gum recession
  • Problems enunciating
  • Scarring

What are the most common tongue piercing problems?

To pierce a tongue, the body piercer must first hold it steady with a clamp.  Next, a hollowed, pointed metal needle is driven through the tongue.  Finally, the piercer attaches the tongue bar to the bottom end of the needle, and then drags it upwards through the tongue.  Two metal screw-on balls are then used to secure the tongue bar.

Most commonly, severe pain and swelling are experienced for several days after the piercing episode.  Moreover, the new holes in the tongue are especially infection-prone, because the oral cavity is home to many bacteria colonies.  In the medium term, saliva production may increase as the body responds to a completely unnatural entity in the mouth.

Are there long-term problems associated with tongue piercing?

Long-term problems with tongue piercings are very common.  The screw-on balls constantly scrape against tooth enamel, making teeth susceptible to decay and gums susceptible to periodontal disease.  Soft tissue can also become infected in specific areas, as the tongue bar continues to rub against it.

If the tongue bar is inappropriately long, it can get tangled around the tongue or teeth.  In a similar way to an earring getting ripped out of the ear, a tongue bar can be ripped out of the tongue.  This is extremely painful, as well as difficult to repair.

American Dental Association (ADA) advises against any type of oral piercing, and so do pediatric dentists.

If you are a concerned parent, or would like the pediatric dentist to speak with your teen about tongue piercing, please contact our office.