By Dr. W. Gifford Jones
February 24, 2002
Why in the name of Heaven do they do it? And the locations? One of the first rings I encountered in my office was in the belly button. The next one in a very intimate part of the female anatomy. That's the one that made my white hair stand on end. Then others began to appear in the lips, cheeks , nose and tongue. Now several reports indicate that placing a ring in the tongue can trigger life-threatening complications.
Drs. Richard Martinet and Elizabeth Cooney are infectious disease specialists at Yale University . They recently reported on one 22 year old woman who got more than she bargained for after tongue piercing.
Following the procedure she developed pain and a foul discharge at the site of the ring. Four weeks later she suffered sudden onset of severe headache associated with nausea, vomiting and dizzyness. These symptoms continued for the next two days and she was admitted to hospital. A CT scan and MRI revealed a mass in the cerebellar part of the brain. She was transferred to the Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Brain surgery was performed to drain a large abscess followed by a complicated post-operative course. Finally after six weeks of antibiotic treatment a repeat CT scan showed the abscess had dissolved.
How did the patient develop the abscess? Doctors were not certain, but believed it resulted from generalized blood poisoning.
The British Dental Journal cites another case of a healthy 19 year old woman who came close to death from infection. Her tongue piercing was done by a tattooist specializing in body piercing.
This patient was told to rinse out her mouth after eating , drinking or smoking. She was also advised not to eat solid or hot food and to suck on ice cubes to decrease swelling. But no one told her what to do if she started to bleed, a serious omission. Compared to other areas that are pierced, the tongue is thicker and has a very generous blood supply.
It's therefore not surprising that her tongue bled continuously from the moment of piercing and she was soon spitting out large blood clots. The bleeding continued for the next three hours until she finally collapsed.
Later the patient admitted that she had concealed the amount of bleeding by swallowing much of the blood. She had wanted to attend a party that night! If someone had not been present to see her collapse, friends would have been attending her funeral instead.
But even if tongue piercing doesn't cause a near fatality it can result in other problems.
Allergic reactions can occur if the material is not made from gold, titanium or surgical steel. The result? A swollen tongue and an obstructed airway.
As well there's no iron-clad guarantee that what's inserted into the tongue will stay put. Some studs holding the ring have become loose and recipients have inadvertently swallowed their jewelry!
Piercing any part of the body carries a risk of infection. But the mouth is a dirty place with vast amounts of bacteria so the risk of oral infection is always much greater. Moreover, if poorly sterilized instruments are used there's always to risk of developing hepatitis or AIDS. And since the tongue is close to the throat an infected swollen tongue can also block the airway causing difficulty breathing.
Good sense dictates that inserting a metal object into the tongue is not a good prescription for sound dental care. Some people have accidentally bitten on the hard tongue stud causing a tooth to crack. The presence of a tongue ring can also cause speech problems and difficulty swallowing.
Before people decide to join this latest craze remember that most body piercers are unlicensed and often self-trained. They usually learn the procedure by watching their peers or video tapes. Would you want someone to remove your appendix who trained this way?
In an ideal world no thinking person would pierce a tongue or that intimate place that shocked me in my office. But on the other hand, only the half-wit believes this to be an ideal world. So I wonder where I'll see the next ring. I can hardly wait for the surprise.
W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is: Docgiff.com
My book, �90 + How I Got There� can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:
Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1Pre-2008 articles by Gifford Jones