It’s great to be cool, but three Polytech High School students are showing that being cool also means being well informed.

That’s particularly so when it comes to facial and oral piercings, say Fatima Edwards, Terri Parker and Gabe Brown. They are dental assistance students who decided to study the phenomenon as a community information project after noticing fellow teens often sport studs or rings on their lips or in their tongues.

“We know a lot of people with piercings, so we went around and asked,” Fatima said. “We asked, ‘Did anyone tell you about the risks or what could happen when you did this?’”

The three were concerned their fellow students may decide to get piercings without awareness of the dangers, risking infections and other health problems by not taking proper care of the piercing site as it heals.

A number of students did have some idea of the possible dangers, but many felt those risks either were minimal – at least for them, she said.

“We knew, of course, that there are no risks if you don’t do it, but also that just because nothing bad happened to one person doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all,” Fatima said.

Their research showed the urge to get body piercings is especially strong in today’s society; a 2015 study by Northwestern University showed 83 percent of Americans have had at least one earlobe pierced, while 14 percent have piercings in other parts of their bodies.

Because a number of those piercings involve the tongue or the lips, their idea fit in perfectly with their dental studies at Polytech.

In reaching out, the three wanted to focus their message on younger students.

“They’re at the age where they’re starting to go to high school,” Gabe said. “We thought that was a good age to inform them about [piercings] before they started feeling peer pressure to do it.”

Not your typical project

The project got its start as the three entered their junior year. They wanted to do an unusual community project and so decided to steer away from typical subjects such as writing about gingivitis or other periodontal diseases, Fatima said.

“We’re teenagers, so we chose a topic that’s interesting to teenagers,” she said. “We learned no one was interested in seeing pictures of bleeding gums, but that they were really interested in piercings.”

Fatima, Terri and Gabe created a series of fact sheets detailing the different types of body piercings, as well as the aftereffects of unsuccessful piercings. To put their information across, they crafted a PowerPoint presentation that was punctuated by color images of piercings gone bad.

The presentation was prefaced by a warning that some of the photos could be considered “disturbing.”

“A lot of the reactions were, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’” Gabe said.

They continued their outreach efforts by hanging the fact sheets around the school and holding “Jeopardy!”-style challenges with classmates, a church youth group and at Delaware State University.

Reaction to their efforts was positive, particularly with the DSU students.

“It wasn’t a huge group, roughly 20 students, but two came up to us after and said they didn’t want to get a piercing anymore,” Fatima said.

And while many piercings done by professionals don’t have complications, some people decide to let friends do the piercings or try to do it themselves, Terri noted. It’s a particularly dangerous practice, and one reason why the three feel so strongly about publicizing the risks and dangers.

“That shows some people are not really informed,” she said.

Delaware law requires anyone under the age of 18 to have parental permission before getting a piercing. With that in mind, the seniors also reached out to parents.

“A lot of them don’t know about piercings,” Fatima said. “They know what it is, but they don’t know about the potential dangers and risks because adults aren’t being as educated as the teenagers are.”

What they leave behind

In June, Fatima, Terri and Gabe will take their project to the Health Occupations Student Association’s national conference in California. The group works to develop leadership skills for students in health-related studies.

Eventually, all three plan careers in health fields: Fatima plans to study pathology, Terri will train to become a pediatric nurse, and Gabe is looking to become an athletic trainer and physical therapist.

Overall, they estimate they’ve succeeded in their goal by having reached more than 2,500 people with their community outreach project. They’ll continue their efforts for the remainder of their senior year.

They’ve also created a page on Polytech’s website that sums up the information they’ve gathered; that information will remain on the web page long after the three have graduated.

“There are a lot of websites about body piercings, but not one that gives you all the information you need in one place,” Gabe said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”

“We’re doing this because, yes, it’s nice to get an award, but we’re also encouraging a lot of people to think about body piercings and to get educated,” Fatima said.

The group’s advisor, teacher Karen Tiedgen, has guided the three students since the beginning, and is excited not only about how it has turned out locally, but on their chances at the national level.

“All of our kids, when they get into competition mode, are really inspiring to me,” Tiedgen said. “We get to witness them at the top of their game, they really rise to the challenge.”

To view the web page created by Fatima, Terri and Gabe, visit http://tinyurl.com/obet76r.