We get asked quite frequently to talk about labrets (lip piercings), methods for stretching and the dangers of tooth damage and gum erosion. Below you find a response to one of those emails which we think sums up our thoughts quite well on the subject.
I will speak simply of my personal experience with my own stretched labret, currently at about 21mm. Labrets and other oral work are really the only ‘common’ piercings that have the potential to result in permanent damage that is very expensive to repair, if not irreparable altogether, in comparison to other procedures and stretched piercings. There are some safeguards that can be taken to give you the best chance that damage will not occur, but the reality is that in many cases it will eventually happen over time and that is something that needs to be considered.
The first safeguard is finding an experienced artist that has done many procedures which have healed well with no issues. Many people overlook the fact that not everyone is anatomically suitable for having a large piece of jewelry floating between their lip and gums/teeth, and an experienced artist will in some cases be able to recognize instances where there will definitely be problems. Placement is also very important, and is of course one of the single largest variables that can effect the long term success or failure of the procedure.
The second safeguard is properly fitting jewelry of a correct dimension and material for the piercing. The shape of the piece at any given size can make the difference between gum damage or not. Concave backs tend to be more suitable as the size increases. Going from round pieces to ovals allows you to minimize the height of the piece as you stretch, but there is a point of diminishing returns where an extremely wide and very narrow piece can put extreme pressure on the soft tissue at the corners of the piercing and becomes very difficult to fit because the very wide back must wrap around the gumline evenly without causing pressure. Weight is something that can be problematic (weight can cause prolonged healing, or issues with painful pocketing in the lip) but can also be useful for pulling the back of the jewelry toward the lip and away from the gums. It is also possible for an experienced jeweler to create flared pieces that will sandwich your piercing between a flare toward the face of the jewelry and the back, also pulling the back away from the gumline.
The last safeguard is simply to pay attention to your body. Be conscious of the movements you make with your mouth, and take steps to minimize any actions which result in the jewelry being pushed or sucked against your gums. Consider switching materials when you are eating, being active or engaging in any activities where a softer material or modified shape might minimize or prevent potential pressure on the gums or chipped teeth. Sleeping with labret jewelry out at night is extremely good for the piercing and allows you to prevent unconscious actions that would put pressure on your gums or teeth. If you care more for your oral longevity than your piercing, my last piece of advice is this: if you see signs of damage that you are not okay with, make arrangements to consider changing your routines, the shape of your piece, or if all else fails, removal.
Having a large labret piercing long term is all about priorities – my personal choice is for my labret, and although I practice everything mentioned above, I do have some minimal gum erosion that I expected. I know that while I have not seen anything further in several years, I can foresee eventually needing to make a realistic choice between my bottom teeth and my labret. When the time comes, I will make it with confidence and pride knowing that it is the best decision for my lifestyle and world view, and I encourage you to be open with yourself in doing the same.
Jared Karnes Owner/Jeweler Onetribe LLC