Body piercing requires caution about the procedure


My 15-year-old son wants to have his tongue pierced. We think this is kind of extreme. Should we let him?

When we first sat down to begin answering your question, we thought we'd have to rely on what we knew about tattooing, which shares certain characteristics with body piercing. Then we came across the January 1997 issue of AAP News, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and were pleased to see a lengthy article about body piercing.

As with getting a tattoo, the major risk associated with body NTC piercing is one of infection. Such infectious agents as hepatitis, tetanus, tuberculosis and HIV can be introduced into the body via piercing. Secondary infections with organisms that normally reside on the skin or in the body can also occur.

Such complications can be avoided if proper technique is used. So here's what to look for:

Make sure all instruments used during the procedure are autoclaved. Ask to see the area where the tools are cleaned.

If a needle is used, it should be a packaged sterilized needle that is used once and then discarded into a special biohazard container for sharp instruments.

Make sure the individual doing the piercing wears latex gloves. If the gloves are cut or ripped during the procedure, they should be changed immediately. It's not unusual to go through five to six pairs of gloves per piercing.

A piercing gun should not be used because it's too difficult to sterilize it thoroughly.

Make sure the person who does the piercing is reputable and knowledgeable. Ask your friends for recommendations and then check these individuals out thoroughly.

Once your son has had his tongue pierced, he should be aware that it will take about three to four weeks to heal. The major risks to tongue piercing include tooth damage from biting on jewelry, partial paralysis if a nerve is damaged during the procedure and extreme inflammation during the first few days. To minimize the risk of infection, your son should clean the site three to four times a day, avoid swimming and not exchange any bodily fluids. (No kissing!) If the site does get infected, he should see his doctor right away since the piece of jewelry may very well need to be removed.

Some individuals develop an allergy to the jewelry piece. Therefore, experts recommend using only surgical stainless steel (316L or 316LVM only), gold titanium or niobium. Too many people have undiagnosed nickel allergies, and gold is plated using cyanide so no gold either.

Your use of the phrase extreme suggests that your concerns are more than just health related. Just as no two teen-agers are alike, so too do parents differ in terms of what they consider acceptable behaviors for their adolescents. We hope this information will be helpful to you and your son in making the decision. Ultimately, the choice will depend on the normal give and take between parents and teen-agers.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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