Tongue Piercing: Everything You Need to Know
This article covers:
- General information about tongue piercings
- Who can get them
- How to get them done
- What to expect before, during, and after
- How to care for them
- Common myths and their corresponding facts
It's important to note that not everyone can get a tongue piercing. It depends on the length of your tongue and where your veins are.
So Who Can and Can't Get Their Tongue Pierced?
Tongue piercings can be both risky and tricky in some cases. As stated above, not everyone can have them, though most people can.
It is extremely important that you allow a professionally licensed piercer to properly assess you before piercing.
Who can't get their tongue pierced?
- People who have a very short tongue. This includes you if you are unable to stick out your tongue or stick it out very far.
- People who have a lot of webbing that stretches far up the tongue. This webbing should NEVER be cut, as cutting can cause extreme swelling, suffocation, and bleeding. It is not legal for anyone but a medical surgeon in a hospital to cut a tongue to increase its length.
- People who have a vein in the wrong place. Some people have a vein directly down the centre of their tongue. Even so, you may be able to get a piercing if the piercer can put it at a slight slant or offset it so it doesn't touch your artery. You may not be able to get venoms (a piercing on either side) if your veins are running down the sides of the tongue. Your piercer can assess whether this will be an issue.
- People with certain health conditions. If you suffer from any form of paralysis, nerve issues, or indeed any health conditions you should alert your piercer.
- People who are under the age limit set by the piercer, usually between 14-16 years for a piercing with parental consent or 16-18 without. You need to ask the studio before you go. This might vary according to local laws.
Things You Need to Know Before Having a Tongue Piercing Done
There are a lot of bad stereotypes around tongue piercings. One is that they get infected very easily. The fact is, they won't get infected if you follow the proper aftercare.
Most commonly they are infected through people kissing or being intimate orally with other people too soon after getting their tongue pierced. Eating and drinking will not cause infection.
You should always research a body modification before getting it done. You need to know the process, what questions to ask, what to look out for, and how to choose a studio.
Choosing Your Studio
You should choose a studio that has been established for a long time and has plenty of experience with piercing. You should also choose a studio that carries a government license.
Professional piercers can prove they are licensed. You should never go somewhere just because it is cheapest; the cheaper it is, the lower the quality of the service and equipment that you will get. You are welcome to shop around, look for reviews, and find somewhere that fits just right.
Tongues are usually pierced with a 16 - 18mm by 1.6mm straight barbell, made from either titanium or surgical steel. Your piercer will want to explain about potential allergies some people have to surgical steel, and have you sign a document to show you understand.
Titanium is the best metal because it is the least likely to cause the skin to react. You should never have a tongue pierced with a short bar, with any metal other than titanium or surgical grade steel, or with a ring. Your barbell can come in any colour and type and you will be free to choose at the studio.
You'll likely go back to the piercer to get a shorter barbell once the swelling has gone down.
Tongue piercing is typically one of the least painful piercings, but this depends on the person. For me the pain level was at a zero. I felt it, but it didn't hurt me in the slightest. The longer your tongue is, the less you will feel.
Getting Your Piercing Done
Once you have chosen your studio and gone to get your piercing, you can go in and ask as many questions as you want. You should always go somewhere reputable and very clean that does not reuse their equipment.
When you go in you will be asked to sign a consent form. You should read this carefully. Let your piercer know if you are on any medication, or have any health conditions or any allergies. These can have a big impact.
Be sure you're feeling fit and healthy when you go to get your piercing. Menstruation does not count for feeling under the weather: I am talking about a cold, getting over an illness, or being on antibiotics.
Also, be sure to brush your teeth, floss, and rinse your mouth with an anti-septic mouthwash beforehand to reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth.
Once you have signed your consent form and chosen your jewellery, your piercer will set up the cubicle, private room or piercing station for you. At this time you may ask how they clean their tools, how long they have been piercing, or any other information. You'll want to ask your questions now because you might not feel like talking much after the procedure.
Before they pierce, they will check your veins. Sometimes if they cannot see them clearly they will use a blue light on your skin to be certain. They may pierce straight down the middle, at a slight angle, off to one side, or in another position.
The piercing should never be close to the tip and should never touch the teeth or cause a speech impediment. Speech impediments only happen if the person has a tongue that is too short to pierce correctly, or if it has been pierced wrong (too close to the tip).
Here are the basic steps of the actual piercing:
- Once they mark the position, they will clamp the area and pierce you.
- After the needle has gone through, they will remove that, and slide the jewellery in through the tube that remains in the tongue.
- Then, they will attach the ball and then you are ready to leave.
- They will let you check it out in the mirror and make sure you're okay before you go.
Once you leave the studio, the piercing is in your hands. The piercer will have done it professionally with sterile equipment. People do not seem to understand that any infections that follow always come through lack of proper care and the piercer is not going to take the blame. That's why you get a piercing done by a licensed professional and sign a consent form.
They should give you some advice on aftercare. If they don't offer it, ask if they can write down the instructions or give you a handout or flyer.
Your aftercare is the most important part of your piercing. Once you have it done, you are responsible for it. Your piercer will talk you through basic care and you should follow their advice. They are the professional.
You want to make sure you have a clean toothbrush, your own toothpaste, and alcohol-free mouthwash. Washing with alcohol is more likely to aggravate the piercing and cause extra swelling and discomfort. Used over the long term it can stain the teeth and burn your mouth.
Things you must avoid after getting a new piercing:
- Drinking hot drinks such as tea or coffee
- Paracetamol or aspirin (which can increase swelling by thinning the blood)
- Alcoholic mouthwash
- Drinking alcohol
- Kissing—for a minimum of three weeks after getting your tongue pierced. Kissing is the second most likely source of infection risk.
- Oral relations—for a minimum for three months after getting your tongue pierced. This is the greatest source of infection risk.
- Playing with the piercing.
- Putting your hands in your mouth for any reason at all, as this will spread germs and potential health risks
- Smoking: this can cause irritation, infection, discomfort and excess swelling.
- NEVER remove or attempt to change a piercing. A tongue piercing is the fastest to close and can close within seconds of being removed. Oral piercings heal and shut very quickly.
You may eat and drink virtually anything else from curry to fizzy drinks, however, be warned that spicy food may make your piercing sore. Most people can eat normally after a tongue piercing, I myself ate normal solids straight after, though you might find softer foods easier to handle.
Nevertheless, your piercing is an open wound. Although it can heal within a month, it is advised not to do any of the above for a minimum of two to three months, as they could lead to complications or serious infection.
Most tongue piercings are healed well enough 2-4 weeks after getting them done, depending on the person, the care and how much swelling there has been. Oral piercings are the fastest to heal and least likely to have problems if cared for correctly. A piercing will usually be fully healed within eight weeks. Most are healed before that, but again, it depends on you.
Your piercing needs to be cleaned 1-2 times per day in the morning and at night. You should brush your teeth as you normally do and rinse with warm water and mouthwash. Do not rinse excessively with the mouthwash. After eating you can rinse with water or have plenty to drink. If you have to touch your piercing (which you shouldn't), be sure to wash your hands well beforehand.
It is normal to have a lot of swelling after a tongue piercing. To reduce it you need to sleep with your head elevated above your heart. You can prop yourself up which is even better.
Ibuprofen is good for pain relief (which you likely won't have) and also for reducing swelling. Sucking on clean ice cubes and drinking cold drinks can really help. The swelling is worst on days two and three, and will reduce over the next week.
Myths vs. Facts
There are many popular misconceptions about tongue piercings.
- Tongue piercings are traditionally signs of prostitutes and the promiscuous.
- Tongue piercings nearly always get infected.
- You can pierce yourself if you know where your veins are.
- The cheapest studio is the same as an expensive one, just cheaper.
- You can buy piercing equipment online that's sterile.
- You can go out drinking after getting a tongue piercing.
- Smoking doesn't affect tongue piercings.
- Tongue piercings cause speech impediments.
- Tongue piercings break your teeth.
- Tongue piercings leave terrible scars.
- Tongue piercings have been around in many kinds of people and in many tribes throughout history. Most people get a tongue piercing done for reasons that have nothing to do with sex. The truth is that it causes little stimulation.
- Tongue piercings are actually unlikely to get infected and will very rarely become infected IF CARED FOR CORRECTLY. If it is infected, it hasn't been looked after right.
- You should never attempt to pierce yourself as you could permanently hurt yourself.
- The cheapest studios have fewer highly qualified piercers, lower-quality equipment, less choice of jewellery, and a lower-grade reputation. You pay for quality.
- Piercing equipment online may be sold as sterile, but it rarely is. Many times it is just dipped in alcohol or vinegar. By the time it reaches you it could have pricked no end of fingers, or have become severely contaminated.
- You should avoid alcohol for a minimum of two to three weeks after a piercing as it can cause irritation, pain, excess swelling and other complications.
- Smoking can cause extra swelling, infection and other problems and should be avoided for at least two to three weeks after a piercing.
- A correctly pierced tongue will not cause a speech impediment. Some studios will illegally cut tongue webbing or will pierce a tongue that is too short just to get money.
- Again, a correctly pierced tongue will do no damage to the teeth.
- Tongue piercings rarely leave any scars or marks when removed—but can close very quickly.
Normal or Abnormal?
When you get a tongue piercing you need to know what to expect.
Things That Are Normal
- Swelling for up to two weeks after having the piercing. Normally the swelling fills the longer bar and reduces after around four days.
- Some discomfort, especially when eating or talking excessively.
- Feeling a little "run down," swollen glands, and tiredness. You feel this way because your body sees the piercing as a foreign object and will send the troops (i.e. your immune system) to investigate.
- Not being able to stick your tongue out fully.
- A small amount of white or very pale yellow pus coming out of the piercing. This should have no odour.
Things That Are Not Normal
- Excessive swelling that gets worse even after four days, so that the bar becomes embedded or painful, or the piercing feels as though blood flow is being cut off
- Difficulty breathing
- Dark brown, green or yellow pus, especially with an odour (a sign of infection)
- Blisters on the tongue, burning, redness, excess swelling (a sign of allergy)
- Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, flu symptoms
- Bleeding, other than a tiny amount just after the piercing
- Pain after the first day of having it done, or pain that gets worse
- Swelling of the throat
- Speech impediments
If you have any of the abnormal symptoms above, you should speak to a piercer immediately and then go to the hospital if they advise. You should NEVER remove an infected piercing yourself, as the infection will become trapped in your body and poison your blood. If you are concerned, speak to someone immediately.
I must state the risk of infection is drastically smaller than the stereotype says. Infection is 99% caused by people kissing or being orally intimate with people before the piercing is healed.
If infection happens, it's usually in the first month of having it done. Lack of care causes infection. A piercing, any piercing, is an open wound and should be treated just like you'd treat any other wound: WITH CAUTION.