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Tongue piercings lead to dental problems

April 21, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
To many young people, tongue piercings are cool; trips to the dentist most definitely are not. But many dentists say they are seeing a growing number of problems directly related to piercings.James McCormick has been spending a lot of his free time at the University of Texas Dental Branch School in Houston, where dentists are repairing his molars. His tongue bar had broken all of them.

"However many you start out with," said James, "That's how many I broke."

And because molars are the big back teeth crucial to chewing, James has been eating a diet more suited to a rabbit while his teeth get fixed.

At the annual Dental Convention in Houston, stories like that are very familiar. "Teeth fractures, breaking of the teeth, they're very common with these piercings and bars in the mouth," said dentist Dr. Victor Rodgriguez. Broken teeth can be both painful and expensive. Some patients may require implants, which can cost as much as $2,000 per tooth.

The bars in particular can cause a variety of problems, because they also rub against the gums.

"It's like waxing a car," said dentist Dr. Greg Condrey. "If you wax it too hard, you're gonna wax right through the paint."

Then there is the damage done to the tongue itself. Kieran Diedrich is a body-piercing technician who has had several piercings himself with some extremely unpleasant results. "It got to the point," he said, "Where I could fit my pinky through my tongue."