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Oral Piercings, Endocarditis, and You

As piercings become more popular, I am amazed at the lack of basic knowledge most people have when it comes to keeping a piercing and oneself happy and healthy. While all piercings have the inherent risk of becoming infected, oral piercings present a unique and particularly insidious risk for some people: bacterial endocarditis.

What is Endocarditis?

Endocarditis is the inflammation of the endocardium, the tissue that makes up the inner lining of the heart. Very often this condition affects the heart valves. Though it may be caused by fungi, it is most commonly caused by bacteria. This condition is most common among people with preexisting heart problems.

When these bacteria make their way into the blood stream, they can find their way to the heart and colonize on damaged heart tissue. Since heart valves have no actual blood supply of their own, white blood cells are not able to move in and destroy the invading bacteria. As a result, an infection can become established.

Endocarditis can cause in flulike symptoms and, if left untreated, can result in stroke and even death.

Why should I care?

As mentioned before, bacterial endocarditis most commonly affects individuals with preexisting heart problems. These individuals are required to begin a prophylactic (preventative) antibiotic regimen prior to having dental work or other medical procedures performed. Though it is a rare disease, it is not an uncommon one, and according to the American Heart Association, about 29,000 cases are diagnosed each year.

It should be noted that, in fact, any oral trauma can result in endocarditis in prone individuals. For this reason, these individuals should be particularly conscious when considering an oral piercing since a piercing is a type of trauma. Such individuals should take the same precautions when getting an oral piercing as they would when having dental work performed.

The Bottom Line: If you have to take antibiotics before having any dental procedures done, you must also take them prior to getting an oral piercing, else you run the risk of developing bacterial endocarditis.

If you are at any point unsure about whether you are at risk for endocarditis you should speak to your physician before getting an oral piercing.

Further Readings

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/endocarditis/DS00409/DSECTION=10
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EiD/vol8no8/01-0458.htm