Labrets, gum recession, and piercing retainers
e Piercing * I got my labret almost two years ago, and it was my first professional piercing. I was pretty nervous because I'd never been pierced before. The anxiety was made even worse when I mentioned the piercing to a friend of mine and she wanted to go along. I had no idea how bad the pain would be, and I desperately wanted to avoid looking like a wimp when I got pierced. I agreed that she could go along, and we went to Forever Yours Tattoo in Anoka, Minnesota, about 30 minutes north of Minneapolis. We had both been there before for tattoos and were impressed with the studio. The piercer, Todd, was great - he's a joker and helped me relax by kidding around incessantly as he was explaining the procedure to me. Since then, Forever Yours got a full-time piercer, and Todd is just tattooing. The new piercer is named Alex, and he's a student of The Todd, an implant artist and piercer who apprenticed under Steve Hayworth. So Alex knows his stuff. Anyway, the piercing proceeded uneventfully just like all the other piercings you read about on this site. I was surprised because the pain was a lot less than I expected. Yes, it hurt, but only for a few seconds. To my relief, I was able to keep a straight, relaxed face as the needle went through. I have since had my tongue pierced and various ear piercings, and the labret was the least painful of all of them for me. Gum Recession The jewelry was a 14-gauge fishtail. Looking back, I can remember Todd saying something kind of vague about some people having problems with that style of jewelry rubbing on their gums, but I never really thought anything about it. It wasn't until about 9 months later when I was on rec.arts.bodyart and reading about gum recession that I looked at my gums in the mirror and found the recession. The gums below my two bottom teeth had receded about a millimeter. I kind of freaked out because I knew nothing about gum recession and was afraid that my teeth were going to fall out or something. I went and saw my dentist and asked him about it. Of course, he gave me the lecture about how bad oral piercing were. When I showed him the gum recession, he advised that I remove the jewelry right away. He said that once the gum has receded, it doesn't grow back. Mine wasn't too bad, but he said that if it continued I could be at risk for tooth loss and other problems. And if it got really bad, I'd have to have skin grafted off the roof of my mouth onto my gums to compensate for the recession. That idea didn't excite me a whole lot, so I started reading on BME and RAB about possible alternatives. One person suggested rubber-backed labret studs. When I asked my dentist about it, he said that the material the jewelry is made of is irrelevant. The problem isn't that the metal is too hard - the problem is that there's a foreign body in my mouth rubbing against my gums when I chew and talk. As such, the recession would occur regardless of the material the jewelry was made of. It was at that point that I decided that I had to remove the jewelry. I love my labret, but didn't want to risk my oral health for a piercing. So I got instructions from someone on RAB (I have since forgotten her name) on how to make a retainer for the piercing, and decided to wear that while I explored other jewelry alternatives. Here's how you make a retainer: Piercing Retainers Go to the hardware store and buy a roll of weed-whacker string. This string is sold in gauges just like body jewelry, although they don't always mark the gauge clearly on the package. More often, they have inch measurements that are entirely unhelpful. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to just hold up your jewelry to the different packages and find one that's the same diameter. A roll of like 50 feet can be bought for a couple bucks. Buy the clear color if they have it because it's less noticeable than the neon green or pink. When you get home, cut off a piece of string a few inches long, and hold one end in a flame. It melts in a hurry, and you just want to heat it enough so the string bubbles slightly. Be careful! This stuff STINKS if you burn it! Once it's melted, very quickly press the heated end onto a flat, smooth, metal surface (a butter knife works well). It cools off quickly, and you're left with a very small disk on the end of the string. The disk is much smaller than standard flat-back labret jewelry, but is big enough to keep the retainer in the piercing. Once you have the disk on one end, simply cut the string to the desired length, and you're done. It helps to cut the non-disk end at a slight angle - for some reason it seems that the retainers are less visible if they're cut at an angle as opposed to straight across. The disk on the back of the retainer is so small that I can barely feel it even when I run my tongue over the piercing. As such, it poses no threat of increasing my gum recession. A warning: make sure that your piercing is completely healed before you try to wear a retainer like this. Weed-whacker string isn't exactly manufactured in the most sanitary conditions. I've worn my retainer on and off for almost a year and a half and haven't had any irritation or problems, but I can't guarantee that you'll have the same success. Another warning: the disk on my retainer was small enough so that my lip actually healed partially over the disk and I couldn't get the retainer out (this only happens after several weeks of continuous wear). I had to have a friend poke and pry at the inside of my piercing in order to get the retainer out. Now when I wear the retainer, I make sure that at least once a day I take it out and reinsert it in order to avoid having my lip heal over it. My Solution I wore my retainer for almost six months while searching for alternatives. I talked to a handful of piercers, but nobody seemed to have any ideas for me that I was satisfied with. Eventually I talked to The Todd, the implant artist and jewelry manufacturer that I mentioned earlier. I told him that I wanted him to custom make a labret stud for me that would essentially be a stainless steel version of my retainer. He told me that he could make the jewelry, but he thought it was unnecessary. What he recommended was just wearing a 5/16" 14-gauge barbell in my piercing with a normal size ball on the outside, and a tiny ball on the inside. I don't know the exact size of the ball on the inside, but it's the smallest one that he made - probably about the same diameter as a 10-gauge barbell. Because the inside ball is close in size to the 14-gauge barbell, the ball kind of works its way partially inside the piercing, and just barely sticks out from the inside of my lip. I still wear the retainer when I go to work. But outside of work I've worn the same jewelry now for about a year and a half, and haven't seen any increase in my gum recession. When I originally went to the dentist, he measured my recession with some instrument that apparently can take very precise measurements. Sometime in the next few months I'm going to go back and have him measure again, just to make sure that the recession hasn't increased. If it has increased, then I'll have custom jewelry made with a super-small inside disk just like my retainer. If it's the same as it was the first time I went in, then I guess this is a success story! Thanks to all the RAB folks who fielded my questions through this process.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 12 Feb. 2000
in Lip Piercing