Tongue Piercing’s Effect on Teeth Isn’t So Cool


The motivation to put a tiny barbell through the tongue may escape anyone over age 22, but even young people would be smart to give up tongue piercing if they care about their teeth. A study of 52 young adults whose tongues were pierced found that receding gums were quite common in the years following the procedure.

About half of the men and women studied who had worn long barbells for two years or longer had receding gums on their lower incisors. This may be because a long barbell--defined for the study as one that is 5/8 inch--is more likely to reach and physically damage the gums than a short one. “We were surprised at how common this was, because gum recession in this age group is rather unusual,” says Dimitris N. Tatakis, professor of periodontology at the Ohio State University Health Sciences Center. And gum trouble wasn’t all: 47% of those who had pierced tongues for four years or more had chipped back teeth.

Short barbells, with a stem length of 1/4 inch or less, were most likely to chip teeth, possibly because the wearers tend to bite on them. While piercers at tattoo parlors often advise customers to wear plastic rather than metal barbells, says Tatakis, the young people examined in this study wore both types. “We don’t know if plastic makes a difference in actual tooth fractures,” he says. (Journal of Periodontology: 73 [3]; pp. 289-297.)


Black Cohosh Relieves Menopausal Symptoms

Women who don’t want to take estrogen replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, may have an effective alternative in black cohosh. It is the most popular herbal treatment for menopause in Germany and is available without a prescription in the United States as well.

A study looking at how the herb affects tissues stimulated by estrogen found that black cohosh had no estrogenic effects yet relieved physical and emotional symptoms of menopause in women who took it for 12 weeks.

To test the safety and effects of Cimicifugae racemosae rhizoma--also known as black cohosh, black snakeroot and rattlesnake root--German researchers studied two doses of a pharmaceutical form of the herb, Remifemin, in 149 perimenopausal and menopausal women. One group of women received the usually recommended daily dose of Remifemin, the trade name of an extract of the herb, for 12 weeks. The second group took three times the usual dose every day. Most of the women continued taking Remifemin for 24 weeks.

Both doses were effective, and there were no serious adverse effects. Examination of cells from the vaginal lining showed none of the increased growth that would have been seen if the herb acted like estrogen. Female hormone levels did not change either. “I’ve recommended this extract for years for women with mild to moderate symptoms, like hot flashes, who are early in the menopausal process,” says Dr. Mary Hardy, medical director of the integrative medicine program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “They may still be having periods and don’t want to take hormones just yet.” It’s also useful for women at risk of breast or endometrial cancer or who have fibroids, she says. Hardy is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline, which markets Remifemin in the United States.

The results of this research apply only to the extract studied. There are several types of black cohosh available, and their effects may not be the same. (Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine: 11 [2]; pp. 163-174.)

For Heart Patients, Mental Stress Can Have Physical Consequences

Some people seem to take the stresses of life in stride, but for others they create a host of health problems. Now researchers have found that how heart patients react to stress may affect their chances of dying.


Earlier studies showed that stress can curtail blood flow to the heart by as much as 70%. New research shows that people with heart disease who have this kind of physical reaction to psychological pressure have three times the risk of dying as those who don’t.

A group of 196 people, mostly men, had an exercise stress test and a mental stress test done while a kind of motion picture of blood flow through their hearts was recorded, using a technique called radionuclide angiography. When the tests were done, all the participants had either had a previous heart attack or had over 50% narrowing of at least one heart blood vessel. The patients were tracked for about five years after testing, a period during which some of them died. The mental stress test detected abnormal blood flow to the heart in 20% of participants.

Seventeen of those tested died over the following years, and 40% of them had abnormal reactions to mental stress. Although the study does have shortcomings--there was no recording of nonfatal heart attacks, and the cause of death wasn’t reported--the researchers believe that further study would be useful to learn how to tailor treatment to those at risk. Stress management, for instance, might be useful.

According to David S. Sheps, professor of medicine and associate chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, researchers are working on a mental stress test that could be available in the future. (Circulation 2002: 105.)

Splints Can Replace Surgery on Infants’ Misshapen Ears

By the time most children with misshapen or prominent ears can have corrective surgery, they have been exposed to years of unkind remarks and stares. That’s because surgeons must wait until the ear is more than 90% of its adult size, typically when the child is 5 or 6 years old, before attempting to repair it. Taking the lead from orthopedists who have learned that splinting can help correct some types of hip and foot deformities, plastic surgeons in Israel are using similar techniques to coax congenitally misshapen ears into their proper position.

A study of 92 ears on 52 newborns found that splinting the ears with a customized mold for about seven weeks on average produced excellent results in 87% of the babies’ ears. In each case referred to them soon after birth, a team of surgeons in Rambam Medical Center in Haifa placed a mold of the desired shape in the child’s ear and then, using surgical tape, positioned the ear close to the child’s head.

The parents were taught how to remove the splint for cleaning and replace it every two days for six to 12 weeks. Six months later, 87% of the ears had achieved excellent results, according to the parents.

An ear deformity may not be obvious until later in infancy, but when it is noticed at birth and treated with splinting when the cartilage is still malleable, the child may be spared not only years of teasing but also the complications that can follow later surgery, the researchers conclude. And splinting is a lot less costly.

Lead author Yehuda Ullman of Rambam Medical Center says the technique is accessible and easy to perform, but the medical profession and the general public aren’t aware that early correction is possible.

Edward Luce, president of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, says he is not aware of any U.S. surgeons trying it yet. “The hitch,” he says, “is getting referrals from pediatricians when the babies are young enough to have this done.” (Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 109 [3]: pp. 908-912.)


Dianne Partie Lange can be reached by e-mail at