Brief History and Current Popularity

Various forms of body modification including piercing have been practiced in almost every society throughout history.21 Preserved bodies of people who lived 4000 to 5000 years ago have piercings. Anthropologists consider body modification to be a way for an individual to identify with a group (religious, tribe or gang), denote financial or marital status or beautify the body.11 To demonstrate courage or virility, Egyptian pharaohs pierced their navels, Roman soldiers pierced their nipples and Mayans pierced their tongues.11,17 As a rite of passage into puberty, Eskimos and Aleuts pierced the lower lips of boys. As part of a purification ritual, they pierced the lips of infant females. A variety of materials have been used as jewelry: wood, metal, pottery, ivory, bone and stone. The introduction of Christian influences led to a decrease in the cultural practice of piercing.9

Recent years, beginning in the late 1980s, have seen a renewed popularity as well as social acceptance, especially in young adults.5,24 Motivations to obtain a piercing include expression of individuality, body beautification, fashion statement, pleasure, physical endurance, group affiliations, resistance, spiritual or cultural tradition or sexual motivation (Figure 12).2,9,18,24,26

Figure 12. Multiple facial piercings.
Multiple facial piercings

The average prevalence of oral piercings is estimated to be 5.2% with a high prevalence in women. Geography, groups participating in the study and differing definitions of a piercing create a range of 0.8-12%