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Aftercare Part 3- Oral Piercing Care

We have spoken already about the general premise behind piercing aftercare, as well as general care and cleaning tips. I would suggest reading both of those blogs before this one, as we are going to reference them both often. Today, we are looking at the unique care needs of oral piercings! When we do a lip or tongue piercing, we aren’t just piercing through the skin, we are also piercing through the mucous membrane of the mouth. In the case of tongue piercings we are piercing through a muscle! With oral piercings it’s almost like two separate sets of aftercare- the cleaning for the outside of the piercing ie the outside of your lip, and the inside which is in the mouth. This post is mostly going to focus on the inside of the mouth, as the outside is similar to what we discussed in my general aftercare post.

Good Oral Hygiene is Key

Unsurprisingly, having good oral hygiene is the largest factor in healing oral piercings well. This means brushing, flossing, and rinsing 2-3 times a day. I suggest an electric toothbrush as these are well proven to clean your teeth better then manual brushing. With electric toothbrushes you can often get interchangeable heads, which you can change out frequently to prevent bacteria buildup. Many even have color changing bristles that tell you when it’s time to change them! Flossing is also an incredibly important part of good oral hygiene and often overlooked. Flossing will help remove trapped food debris and plaque which can lead to bactrian buildup. It also keeps your gums healthy and strong, which can really minimize gum damage from oral piercings.

It’s important to note the products you use. Many products these days are focused on whitening your teeth. After all, who doesn’t love a sparkly white smile. But one of the most common whitening chemicals is peroxide, and I actually have a whole blog here about why you don’t want that on your piercings. Whitening toothpaste and mouthwash is often too harsh on healing opal piercings. This is so well known that we often see a specific type of irritation bump when clients are using harsh products. Large, white, lumpy irritations around an oral piercing on the inside are a dead giveaway that product irritation may be present. Because of this, it’s important to swap to gentle products when oral piercings are healing. I personal love biotine mouthwash which is alcohol free and non whitening. H2ocean also makes a mouthwash for healing piercings that’s very gentle. For toothpaste, everyone has different preferences but check the box and ingredients for peroxide and other whitening chemicals. This does also mean if you whiten your teeth at home you should wait till your piercings are fully healed before whitening again.

And of course, regular visits with your dentist and regular dental cleanings are very important to the health of your teeth and gums as well. Make sure you check in, and even ask your dentist to pay extra attention to the areas around your piercings and let you know if they see and irritation or issues!

All of this said, it’s important to clean a normal amount. Over cleaning with oral piercings can upset the balance of your mouths natural bacteria and cause issues. For many years we told clients to rinse with mouthwash after every single meal- and we saw lots of clients deal with issues with yeast and bacteria in the mouth. Brush, floss, and rinse regularly, 2-3 times a day. And rinse after eating with just cool water, not mouth wash. Using mouthwash that often will irritate your mouth and cause issues.

But…Bacteria?!

Many clients are worried about bacteria in oral piercings. After all, we eat so much food and drink so many things and our mouths must be disgusting right?!? How can a piercing heal like that? Well actually, the mouth is an amazing healer. Wounds in the mouth often heal faster and with less scarring than elsewhere. A major factor of this is our saliva, which creates a unique humid environment and works to improve the survival and function of inflammatory cells that assist with wound healing. Saliva also contains some amazing proteins sometimes called the “master healing proteins” which help wounds in the mouth heal extra fast. Now, don’t go spitting on your other healing piercings or wounds. Saliva isn’t magic like that, it just means that in the environment it’s meant for, the mouth, it contributes to faster and better healing.

We also have lots of good bacteria in our mouth that helps prevent issues from bad bacteria. These good bacteria are constantly protecting us from food we eat, things we drink, and any other substances we end up with inside our mouth. All of this means that oral piercings tend to heal exceptionally well!

Swell Hell

As we discussed, all piercings experience swelling after piercing. It’s part of the inflammation phase of wound healing and a very normal part of the healing process. But oral piercings are notorious for experiencing a ton of swelling- much more so then any other placement we pierce. And this is thanks to two major factors. One, that tissue type in the mouth. Two, how much movement and use it gets! We are talking and eating and drinking all day long and that does contribute to swelling. Because of this, I often jokingly let my clients know that this will be a trial run for filler- their lips will be pleasantly plump for the first few days. And tongue piercings may cause a slight lisp for the first few days as well.

In order to accommodate for this swelling, oral piercings are pierced with much longer jewelry. This is so we have room for initial swelling and healing. After that initial swelling goes down, we can swap you to a shorter, better fitting piece. As a client, this means you can expect to see a very long barbell when you first look at your piercing in the mirror. It might look a little silly, like a big antenna. But I promise, it’s needed! Many clients swell most of the length of the long bars we use. Once swelling goes down we can shorten these pieces, typically after just a few weeks.

It’s important to downsize these long bars in any piercing, but particularly in oral piercings. Leaving them long can allow them to catch and snag on your teeth and gums. This can lead to chipped teeth, damaged gums, and all sorts of oral problems. It can also make it tempting to play with jewelry, which often entails chewing on it or running it across your teeth. Which is also terrible for your teeth. A main factor in reducing damage from oral piercings is downsizing as soon as swelling is down.

Smoking Slows

It’s very important when we discuss the healing of oral piercings to mention smoking. Smoking does absolutely slow healing for piercings, and can even cause irritation and issues. Many clients who regularly smoke cigarettes notice slower healing oral piercings and irritation unique to smoking. Yellowing tissue around a healing wound and a yellowish secretion from a healing oral piercing can both sometimes be signs of irritation from smoking.

Obviously, not smoking during healing would be the safest choice. But, that’s not reasonable for many clients. So I suggest vaping over smoking, and trying to use better filters and minimize nicotine content as often the nicotine can cause the irritation. Trying to cut back while healing is also a good idea, and rinsing with cool water after a smoke can help clean out the mouth.

This is mostly in consideration of nicotine smoke, cannibis smoke is often less irritating. That said it can still irritate, and I would suggest avoiding smoking methods that may cause more physical irritation. For example, hitting a bong right after getting your vertical labret pierced would feel awful. A joint may be less irritating.

Food Restrictions?

A frequently asked question is if there’s any food you can’t eat after an oral piercing. And with good reason, the internet will tell you to avoid dairy, beer, liquor, eggs, etc. All sorts of random things after an oral piercing. But, there’s really no hard and fast list of foods you can’t eat. It’s more about listening to your body. Going out and getting super spicy Thai food right after a tongue piercing is probably going to feel horrible. But, it’s your body! If you choose to do so and it doesn’t hurt and isn’t causing any irritation- go for it! Many folks are concerned dairy will cause issues, and for some folks they may get phlegm after they consume dairy that they find uncomfortable with an oral piercing. But, equally as many folks enjoy cool ice cream and milk shakes after an oral piercing to help soothe swelling. Listen to your body!

That being said, how you eat is often more important than what you eat. For example, if you have a vertical lip piercing like a vertical labret or philtrum, stretching your mouth wide to bite into a huge burger or an apple is probably going to be very uncomfortable. And with a fresh tongue piercing, a super chewy well done steak that needs lots of tongue movement to chew isn’t gong to feel awesome. After oral piercings food that can be cut into smaller pieces and eaten with a fork or spoon tend to be more comfortable to eat. And with a fresh tongue piercing, as silly as this sounds, tilting your head to the side when you eat and allowing food to fall to your teeth rather then move it with your tongue can be much more comfortable!

There’s even a few things you may not think of- noodles can tangle around tongue jewelry when its long. Peanut butter will get all over jewelry and be hard to clean off while fresh. Chewing gum is a bad idea with healing oral piercings for the most part. And cool snacks and treats can really help bring down swelling. Ice cream, water ice, ice pops, just any fun cool snack!

Forget Fidgeting

I know, it’s very tempting to play with oral piercings while they heal. It’s so easy, to run the jewelry along your teeth, click on your vertical labret, chew on your philtrum. But all of these habits can cause irritation and issues for the piercing during the healing process. Not to mention potentially damage your teeth and gums. Oral fixations are a common issue for clients, but you’ve got to do your best to resist the urge to play and fidget!

Oral Contact

A common consideration of aftercare of oral piercings is oral contact with others. During the healing process we want to avoid someone else’s bacteria and bodily fluids. This does mean that while an oral piercing is healing, you don’t want saliva or bodily fluids from anyone else near it. With something like a labret or a philtrum, a quick closed mouth peck here and there is fine. But making out, oral sex, and any other oral contact should be avoided with healing oral piercings. Dental dams and condoms can make this safer, but the movement and friction of these activities can also cause irritation. I would ideally want to see clients abstain for the full healing process. Realistically, I’d like folks to wait 1-2 months with lip piercings and 3-4 months with vertical lip piercings, tongue piercings, and cheek or dahlia piercings.

Top Tips

Now lets look at my favorite suggestions for specific piercings!

Tongue Piercings

-Brush your tongue well. A tongue scraper can also be handy to keep your tongue clean. Often times due to the discomfort after piercing clients won’t brush or clean their tongue and can end up with yellowish or whiteish buildup across the surface of the tongue. This is fairly common after a tongue piercing, and brushing and cleaning the tongue well often fixes it.

-Bleeding is fairly common after oral piercings, but particular tongue piercings thanks to it being a muscle and moving so much. Alcohol is a blood thinner, and drinking right after a fresh tongue piercing can absolutely cause you to bleed, which can be scary! I’d avoid drinking for the first 1-2 weeks.

-Foods that need you to use your tongue a lot to move them around your mouth as you chew will be harder to eat. Softer foods that need less tongue movement will be easier. Taking smaller bites also helps.

-Plaque can easily build up on the bottom ball, so don’t forget to brush under your tongue.

Vertical Lip Piercings

-Any piercing through the vermillion of the lip will cause chapped lips. However, since the piercing rests on the lip line, you can’t safely wear chapstick or lipstick while this is healing (usually 5-6 months). Chapped lips are a pain however. Staying really well hydrated will help minimize chapping- drink lots and lots of water! And try not to pick.

-These often need multiple downsizes, sometimes even months after piercing!

-No lipstick for the full healing time.

Lip Piercings

-Nest pockets are normal for these piercings and you can read more about them here.

-It’s easy to snag these on your shirts and while eating while they are long, slow down and move carefully.

-Avoid all makeup and skincare products around these for the full healing time.

Cheeks and Dahlias

-Don’t forget to brush the insides of these! They will build up plaque if you don’t.

-Avoid all makeup and skincare products around these for the full healing time.

-Nest pockets are normal for these piercings and you can read more about them here.

-These can be very prone to fluid filled irritation bumps and abscesses. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them while they heal, and stay in contact with your piercer.

This is a great general rundown of the care and cleaning of oral piercings and all of my best tips and tricks! Hopefully this helps many of you with your healing piercings. Stay tuned because we’ll be discussing gential and surface piercing aftercare next!

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