Pondering the pros and cons of tongue piercing

Originally Published: March 30, 2001 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 20, 2012
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Hey Alice,

I'm considering getting my tongue pierced. Is there anything I ought to know before I get it done? What should I look for in a piercing place? Does the piercing ever have negative effects — I don't know, tongue paralysis or something? Thanks!

Alice,

If and when I decide to take my tongue ring out, I worry that there will be scarring tissue or an ugly hole in the middle of my tongue. Is this the case?

Dear Readers,

All the information and warnings about oral piercings can leave the potential piercee tongue-tied. Luckily, tongue paralysis from tongue piercing has not yet been documented. Yet there are a number of other potential complications ranging from minor to more severe.

Unlike many other hot spots for body piercings (ears, noses, brows, etc) the tongue is an oft-used muscle that is almost constantly in motion. Also, unlike many other piercing sites, the tongue happens to be in the mouth, one of the most bacteria-filled orifices that ever existed. These environmental circumstances present a double jeopardy for healthy healing. Not surprisingly, the most frequent issue that comes up is infection. How to prevent this?

Start with finding a reliable artist and piercing studio. A studio that is a member of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) 888.515.4APP (-4277) is likely to be a clean and reliable shop because the APP has very high cleanliness standards. But mostly, body art studios are unregulated. So a few questions to ask:

  • Is the business licensed and established, with separate clean, tidy, and well-lit rooms for procedures?
  • Are there trained and experienced piercers on staff who use new gloves and a fresh disposable needle for each procedure? Never go to a place that uses piercing guns — they are more difficult to clean and inflict greater tissue damage.
  • Do they have an autoclave and ultrasonic cleanser for sterilizing instruments are on the premises?
  • Do they answer all of your questions and concerns openly and directly? If you're unsatisfied or uncomfortable with the answers, or can't get them at all, go somewhere else.

While infection can happen during the piercing process, proper after-care during the 4 – 6 weeks after is supremely important for avoiding infection. Key aspects of oral piercing care include:

  • Cleansing the mouth at least a dozen times a day with a diluted mouthwash or sea salt water for one minute, including always rinsing after eating, smoking, and drinking. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide and mouthwashes that are high in alcohol.
  • Washing hands before touching the piercing (and touching it as little as possible, too).
  • Avoiding any kind of oral sex activity or open mouth kissing for 4 - 6 weeks.
  • Avoid applying any topical antibiotics to the site (ointments are hard to remove from piercings and can trap microorganisms).
  • Reduce swelling by sucking on some ice or drinking ice water.
  • Visit a health care provider immediately if you notice:
    • Abnormal or unusual appearance features, such as redness or inflammation that goes beyond a quarter-of-an-inch circumference from the piercing.
    • Thick fluid oozing from the site that's yellow-green in color.
    • Extensive bleeding.
    • A feeling of heat or red streaks radiating from the site.
    • Persistent or increased tenderness, discomfort, or pain.

More severe complications of tongue piercings that have been documented include brain and heart abscesses (some resulting in death) due to infection travelling in the bloodstream, airway blockage due to swelling of the tongue, swallowing or choking on loose jewelry, gum damage, and chipped teeth resulting from biting down on jewelry. Additionally, major infections can include hepatitis B and C, HIV, tuberculosis, and tetanus. Less severe complications can include increased saliva production, damage to teeth enamel, scarring, and pain. And certainly, lots of people get tongue piercings with few or no complications whatsoever.

If removing jewelry from a piercing before it’s completely healed, or when it’s infected, the site will close up rapidly, and more often than not result in negligible scarring. In cases of infection, it may be better not to remove the barbell in order to encourage proper healing and minimize potential for problems. Piercings that are older or larger in size will get smaller, but probably will not close completely even when jewelry is left out. In these instances, scar tissue inside piercings may develop, which may look like a small indentation and feel like a bump in the skin. With time, these scars often become more supple and decrease in size.

In addition to visiting a healthcare provider, many piercers make themselves available for repeat visits if problems arise during aftercare. They should be willing and able to provide additional information and able to help remove the jewelry if needed.

Happy piercing!

Alice

July 20, 2012

513997
I recommend letting the piercing heal, waiting a few months, and then gauging it to a size which jewelry is available in acrylic plastic. Plastic has far less potential of doing damage to the teeth...
I recommend letting the piercing heal, waiting a few months, and then gauging it to a size which jewelry is available in acrylic plastic. Plastic has far less potential of doing damage to the teeth and gums.

April 24, 2012

510386
One thing I have to say about oral piercings is that they are the fastest to heal because they are being constantly cleaned by saliva. tongues usually take 2-3 weeks or less and same with lips. my...
One thing I have to say about oral piercings is that they are the fastest to heal because they are being constantly cleaned by saliva. tongues usually take 2-3 weeks or less and same with lips. my lip healed in 1.5 weeks. Do as your piercer tells you and if you are unsure call them up or call the doctor. The biggest thing is to avoid dairy products for the first few days especially for the tongue because it heals so quickly. You don't need to rinse your mouth that often, simply do it after you eat or smoke or anything else. I usually timed smokes with meals or snacks. so I wouldn't over rinse. If you rinse too much you will iritate it. to drink anything use a straw. unless it's water. If you are prone to infections maybe talk to your doctor about keeping you on a low grade antibiotic while healing. I do suggest really thinking about it because tongue piercings are the ones that swell up the most. If it doesn't hurt then it will later. my belly button piercing didn't hurt until the weeks after. so simply be clean, be smart, and don't over do it. over cleaning is just as bad as under cleaning. The tongue also is the one that closes up the fastest when jewewlry is left out, it also will leave virtually no scaring. my older sister had this piercing for years then took it out, simply for the reason she is slightly OCD and when eating ice cream cones soft served she would leave trenches in the ice cream and it bothered her. The hole isn't even there. no indent either. The biggest thing is to talk to your piercer before, get the products you need to keep it clean, and take some tylenol half an hour before getting it done to stop swelling.

August 14, 2007

21282

I got my tongue pierced very young and had it in for 6 years. Last summer I had to take it out because it was causing my gumline in my bottom, back teeth to receed. I had to have a gum recession...

I got my tongue pierced very young and had it in for 6 years. Last summer I had to take it out because it was causing my gumline in my bottom, back teeth to receed. I had to have a gum recession done and that cost me over $1600. So, I would suggest if you have a very small tongue and your piercing lays on a certain spot 24/7 then I would take it out! I hated that I had to take it out... but i also wanted to save my teeth... some of them were so bad that they were getting ready to fall out! Yeah.... Big mistake.

Don't do it unless you don't care about your teeth!

December 5, 2005

20998
Alice,

I've had my tongue pierced for about 4 years almost to the day and I've never had any problems whatsoever and I have very healthy gums and teeth. Maybe some people will tell you...

Alice,

I've had my tongue pierced for about 4 years almost to the day and I've never had any problems whatsoever and I have very healthy gums and teeth. Maybe some people will tell you otherwise, but my experience has been quite pleasant and wonderful!

June 24, 2005

20923
Alice,

I had my tongue pierced four years ago and the bottom front teeth in my mouth all have holes and I have to have them fixed — where i would rub my ring in those spots all the time. I don't...

Alice,

I had my tongue pierced four years ago and the bottom front teeth in my mouth all have holes and I have to have them fixed — where i would rub my ring in those spots all the time. I don't suggest anyone get theirs done.