Next up in my series on stretching- Labret Stretching! Stretching this piercing has long roots cross culturally- the Mayans and Aztecs, and the Moche of peru, the Mursai women and their lip plates, even some Egyptian and Eastern European mummies have been found or depicted with stretched lip piercings. And with good reason- labret piercings in the grand scheme of things are an easy stretch- easier then cartilage that is. And Jewelry choices are endless, and with it showcased in the center of your face where better to make a statement. But, stretching these piercings carries with it a real risk of tooth and gum health issues and other factors. With our increased understanding of dental and oral health we know now just how incredibly dangerous labret stretching can be for your teeth. Today, let’s look more at safe labret stretching.
Gum and Tooth Damage
Any sane, safe conversation about stretching oral piercings needs to start here. All oral piercings carry some risk of tooth and gum damage. Oral piercings are the most common piercings that have the potential to result in serious, longterm, and sometimes irreparable damage. While you can do everything correctly to prevent this, sometimes damage does just eventually happen over time. That is a reality that needs to be heavily considered before going forward with stretching these piercings. Labret stretching is not a matter of if it will destroy your teeth, its a matter of when. Dental work is expensive, and often painful. Are your piercings worth the risk to your teeth? Is the that a gamble you can afford to take? Do you have dental insurance? Do you have good oral hygiene and will you maintain it? Even if you do all that are you genuinely ok with possibly loosing most of your lower front teeth? Is a piercing more important then your teeth? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you even consider stretching your labret.
Quality Piercer, Quality Piercing
If you know your intention is to stretch your labret, your first step is seeing a piercer experienced in this piercing. Even if you have an existing labret piercing, it may not be well placed or properly angled for stretching. Because of this, having a consult with an experienced piercer is essential. It sucks to start stretching and get a few sizes in and realize your piercing isn’t going to get you to your goal, or sits off center, or causes gum issues. Piercers experienced in this work are not as common as you might expect, and you should be prepared to potentially travel to see someone to assist you. Along side that, not everyone has good anatomy to have a stretched labret. A good piercer will be willing to tell you that this isn’t the modification for your anatomy, and explain why. If stretching is your goal and you have the anatomy for it, many piercers well versed in this placement can pierce you slightly larger to jumpstart your stretching journey and ensure stable and proper placement. This can be discussed with your piercer during your consultation.
Proper placement is crucial for these piercings. Because tooth and gum damage is a real risk, these need to be placed to minimize contact and rubbing with your gums. They also need to be angled correctly to avoid uneven pressure, which eventually can cause gum erosion, or irritation bumps and uneven pockets because the jewelry isn’t sitting perfectly perpendicular. With stretched labrets nesting becomes incredibly important, as the pockets your lip creates around the backing will help minimize damage to your teeth and gums. As you size up pockets will need to recreate themselves around new pieces, and a good piercer will account for this phenomenon when placing your piercing but also when working with you during stretching. Nesting is ideal for stretched labrets but sometimes getting nest pockets to form comfortably, adjusting to new backings, or new pieces can be a difficult process. Sometimes you’ll have to swap back and forth a few times between pieces before things adjust comfortably. A great piercer can assist you with this process if it becomes difficult.
These these things are all important just for a standard labret, but for stretching it’s double important. This is also what can make finding a piercer experienced in this work difficult, as placement for a standard 16 to 14g labret vs placement to stretch to 1/2 or even 1 inch is very different.
Quality Piercing, Quality Jewelry
The next largest factor is going to be jewelry. Wearing properly fitted, well made Jewelry for your labret is going to be key to minimizing gum and tooth damage. Most folks once they get up to the sizes these start at (usually 6-4g depending on the maker) wear T-Back labrets. As the name implies, it’s a plug with an elongated over backing that kinda creates the letter T. This elongated flare is perfect for holding things in. And skilled makers will add a gentle curvature to the flare to rest comfortably against the curve of your jaw. Your ideal shape, size, and concave may vary as you stretch larger, and what was perfect at one size may be painful and uncomfortable at the next. There is a lot of trial and error in labret stretching, and finding the Jewelry that is both comfortable and safe. Concave backs tend to be the most popular, particularly as you get larger and they allow the piece to wrap with the gums and jaw easily. As folks get larger many often swap to oval pieces. Ovals allow you to minimize the height of a piece while still going larger, and avoid some of the distortion on the upper lip. However, ovals that become too long and narrow, or are poorly made with poorly finished wearables can put pressure on the sides of your labret, causing damage and irritation. This is why seeking out an experienced maker and working with them to get your exact measurements and perfect fit is so important. And please remember it may take some trial and error before you get it right- don’t jump to wondering expensive pieces until you are sure of your sizing and what will be comfortable for you. Some of my favorite suggestions for labret Jewelry are dendrite, southshore adornments, gorilla glass, Grit Lapidary. Southshore in particular works with delrin which is affordable, comfortable, and great for stretching.
Many folks choose affordable materials for stretching such as delrin and ptfe, and more expensive and fancy materials for once they are at their goal size and know their measurements, like stone and metal inlay pieces.
Slow and Steady
Like most stretching, labret stretching is a trial of patience. Taking your time between stretches, allowing your lip to adjust to new pieces and new shapes and dimensions, and never rushing are crucial. At smaller sizes, tapers may be necessary to assist in stretching larger. For this reason many choose to be pierced larger to skip those sizes. Any tapers used should be quality, long tapers gotten through a piercer, and used with the upmost care to prevent damaging or blowing out the tissue. Halfsizes are also very useful as you get up into sizing where you no longer need tapers and can naturally stretch with just the jewelry. Many awesome makers offer affordable half sizes in delrin and ptfe to assist with those difficult or tight stretches. With labrets there really is no average time between stretches, these piercings are very very variable from person to person. Many folks I’ve spoken to have said anywhere from 3-8 moths between sizes, with different timeframes at different points in their stretching journey. You also should get comfortable with downsizing. You may try a new piece, a new shape, or just have some chapped lips or a flare up, and need to go down a few sizes to let your lip recover. Needing to downsize is far more common when we stretch things besides lobes, and it’s a normal part of the process. The best thing you can to to ensure a healthy, happy labret is know when to make the call to downsize, rather then tough it out and cause damage. And remember downsizing may happen for a number of reasons, from the lip not being ready for a stretch, to pockets not adjusting well, to even just a random flare up. It’s ok to downsize, and the health of your lip and piercing is always more important.
If you live in a climate with cold or harsh winter, this may be a time of the year that takes a toll on your stretched labret. Bundling up with scarves to avoid the cold on your lips helps, and staying very very hydrated to help against chapped lips is also a good idea. Keeping chapstick you love handy, and generally listening to your body and doing what you can to prevent issues is key. I personally am not built for the cold so I’ve moved somewhere more temperate year round. But every winter I see posts from my friends in cold places with stretched labrets dealing with irritations and issues from the cold and chapped lips. Something to keep in mind as you stretch!
Listen to your Body
Perhaps the biggest thing in all modification, but particularly stretching is to listen to your body. Does eating certain foods with your jewelry in feel uncomfortable or rub? Consider removing jewelry or switching materials to eat those foods. Are you athletic, play sports, hike, or do activities where you could get hit in the face or mouth? Consider removing jewelry or switching materials during those- a friend of mine once fell off his bike and his labret plug sliced his gums open and he was left healing for weeks. In the future, he simply removed jewelry and tucked it in his bag whenever he was riding to prevent injury. Sleeping without jewelry in if you can train your labret to do so is another great way to prevent unconscious irritation from grinding or movement in your sleep, and allows the piercing to remain tight and secure during the day, much like sleeping without jewelry in your lobes. Does a certain style or piece seem to cause extra discomfort? Try wearing those pieces for limited lengths of time, or retire them and invest in pieces with a better fit. And make sure you keep up with going to your dentist for regular checkups, and monitoring the health of your teeth and gums. You should have a plan in place of what you will do if you start to see damage or issues, be that downsizing, trying different jewelry, or retiring and closing the piercing all-together. Knowing the risks that stretching a labret can carry, you should ave a game plan in place for the future if you encounter these issues.
“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 and Jeweler at Dendrite
Stretched Labrets and Philtrums group on F