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Study: Piercing can harm gums

Monday, March 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:43 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Decorative studs, rings and other lip piercings can seriously damage gums and increase the risk of infections, tooth sensitivity and tooth loss, a new study suggests.

Ohio State University researchers recruited 29 young adults with lower-lip piercings and 29 without and looked for evidence of gingival recession — retraction of the gums that can expose the tooth roots — around the bottom front teeth. Each group had 15 female and 14 male members with an average age of 22.

Only two of the nonpierced participants had receding gums, while 12 pierced participants suffered from the syndrome, Dimitris Tatakis and his colleagues reported in Baltimore recently at the International Association for Dental Research. The longer the piercing has been in place, the greater the likelihood of gum problems.

A number of reports from dentists in recent years have documented individual patients with lip piercings whose gums were receding as though from chronic trauma. (Tongue piercings have been associated with similar problems on the inner-gum surfaces.)

But the Ohio study is the first to compare the incidence of the syndrome among groups of people with and without piercings. It adds to the evidence that the ornaments are causing the problems.

The culprit seems to be the constant rubbing of the metal rings or stud backings against the gums, which sends the delicate tissues into retreat.

The syndrome can be reversed, other dentists and periodontists have reported, but the process can be expensive and painful. Typically, it involves the permanent removal of the piercing, thorough scraping of the tooth roots, and a transplant of soft tissue from the roof of the mouth to replace the lost tissue.

Earrings, anyone?


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