Tattoos and piercings can cause serious medical problems. Doctors and parents need to discuss the risks with patients and teens.
Many teens these days have a hard time being themselves either because of a lack of self-esteem or the need to belong to the crowd. Because of this tattoos and piercings are sadly becoming very common. I live now in a small beach town and was amazed this summer to see so many tattoos. I wondered if the teens had permission from their parents to get these or if there was even any discussion about the problems that could develop from piercings or tattoos.
I had a teenage patient several years ago who was on cortisone (prednisone) because of a serious muscle disorder (dermatomyositis). She came in one day to be checked and said "You are going to be upset with me, Dr. Thompson." I asked why and she stuck out her tongue. In the center was a silver ball. I explained to her the risk she was taking because of her disease and taking prednisone. Then I said, "Either the ball comes out and stays out or I can no longer be your doctor." She turned a little pale, but the ball came out and stayed out.
As parents, I think a serious discussion is needed about the risk of both tattoos and piercings. Even if there is not a medical problem, teens need to know the risks. Infection is one, as is the fact that tattoos are permanent. They can be removed but severe scarring can result. Patients with any kind of medical problem are at a particualr risk. Also a ball on the tongue can cause chipping of teeth.