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Tongue Piercing 101

Tongue piercings! These popular piercings have been around for many years and have been a cultural staple here in America. From movie covers to music videos, tongue piercings are depicted everywhere. While tongue piercing broadly covers any piercing in the tongue, this blog post specifically will talk about midline tongue piercings. A piercing placed along the centerline of the tongue, vertically. While these are cute, popular piercings they also come with a fair amount of cons- most notably damage to the teeth and gums. Of the oral piercings that reputable piercers offer tongues are among the more risky, with a high potential for damage. Today let’s look closer at these piercings, the risks, and how we can avoid them!

A Note on Horizontal Placements

Of course, I can’t talk about tongue piercings without taking some time to address horizontal tongue piercings. There is no safe horizontal placement on the tongue- point blank. While even vertical tongue piercings carry risk to your teeth and gums horizontal placements are often even more damaging. They also effect the muscles of the tongue and can cause issues with speech. You can learn more about these risks here.

Anatomy, Always

Tongue piercings are highly anatomy dependent piercings. We need enough space on the tongue that is safe to pierce. When I say enough space, I generally mean the length of the tongue. Quite often short tongues won’t have enough room that can be safely pierced. Folks who are tongue tied, or have a webbing that comes far forward toward the tip of the tongue, are also not suited for this piercing. In the case of a tongue tie you can see about having the webbing removed via a dentist or oral surgeon- but if your tongue is still very short even after the webbing is removed, a tongue piercing may not be for you. And when we discuss being safe to pierce that most often means avoiding blood flow. There are some important veins that run along the underside of the tongue. They are most commonly located on either side, but for some folks they run along the middle or very close to it. Those factors could also make you not suited for this piercing.

When we discuss anatomy for a tongue piercing I think it’s very helpful for clients to understand the unique anatomy of the tongue. We often think of it as a solid muscle or just two muscles but the tongue is actually a grouping of different muscles.

The above diagram breaks down all the different muscles of the tongue. I think its easiest to picture it as two groups of muscles- one on each side, and broken down to individual muscles within those groups. Notice that softer middle area, the fibrous septum. This is the “sweet spot” of the tongue. When we do a traditional centered tongue piercing we are piercing through that area of connective tissue in the middle of those groups of muscles. Much like the sweet spot when we pierce a nasal septum, this area is softer, flexible, and tends to be much easier to heal. Now you can pierce offset out of the septum, but we’ll get into alternative placements in the next blog post.

While we are on anatomy it’s worth noting that the anatomy of your teeth and jaw also play a role in getting this piercing and having it successfully. A good piercer should account for how your tongue fits into your mouth and where things rest with your teeth. A piercing that’s angled too far forward can rub at the backs of your bottom teeth and cause damage. Likewise angled back and it can rub on the top teeth. So the shape and structure of your teeth is very important for this as well!

Feelin’ Swell

Oral piercings are known for their swelling- and the tongue is no exception. You will be pretty swollen for the first 3-5 days, and expect to have a lisp when you talk. But swelling is perfectly normal and nothing to be stressed over! Your piercer will pierce you with a longer bar which has plenty of room to accommodate for initial swelling. After the first few days this swelling will start to go down. Cold water, ice chips, ice pops (carefully), water ice, and cold treats can all help soothe swelling. However, once the swelling is down that long initial bar is going to be quite long. It can catch on your teeth and gums, you can bite it, and it can be tempting to play with. Because of this it’s very important you get this piercing downsized as soon as it’s ready for one! Don’t leave your jewelry long, especially not in tongue piercings. It’s not worth the damage it can cause to your teeth and gums.

Safe Oral Products

While this heals, a big factor in it healing well is using oral products that are safe for the piercing. This means no products that are for whitening or contain whitening chemicals or abrasives like charcoal. Check ingredient lists too, because many toothpastes and mouthwashes hide whitening chemicals. Just like with a root canal or other major oral work, harsh chemicals like that can irritate and disrupt a healing wound. Yes, that also means you should discontinue actually whitening your teeth while this heals. Once it is healed is fine, but those chemicals are not awesome for your tongue while its healing. Alcohol free mouthwash is also going to be gentler while it’s healing.

I would strongly suggest investing in a tongue scraper as these are the most effective way to keep your tongue clean! They may be a little uncomfortable to use while the piercing is brand new but as it heals they will be comfortable to use again and are so amazing and keeping things really clean and healthy.

For other information about healing, and some of the myths about healing (like spicy foods, alcohol, and other things, check out this blog post about the myths and misinformations surrounding any oral piercings!

Jewelry Considerations

Tongue jewelry is going to be somewhat simple, and this is for a good reason. Tongue piercings have to be far more functional than other piercings. We are talking and eating and drinking with our tongue- it’s got a lot of work to do! But because of this we need jewelry that’s compatible with all of those things. The classic metal balls are a classic for a reason- simple, smooth, and easy to keep clean. For those looking to spice things up, a bezel set opal is a great choice. Bezel settings are smooth, low profile settings that are comfortable in the mouth. Prong set pieces can often scratch the roof of your mouth and collect bacteria and food bits- the same goes for claw settings and crown settings. If you feel comfortable you can experiment with those more decorative setting styles but do so at your own risk and be mindful of cleaning and care for them.

Another factor with tongue jewelry is plaque. Just like the plaque buildup we clean off our teeth, plaque will build up on oral piercings as well. And of all the oral piercings, tongues often get some of the worst buildup. Particularly the bottom bead, as food particles can easily become trapped there. Whatever jewelry you choose to wear remember that you’ll be dealing with plaque on it and need to clean it off regularly. Simple jewelry is going to be easier to clean. And the more complex, the more difficult.

Oral Health Risks

All oral piercings carry risks of harming your teeth and gums. But tongue piercings often carry some of the highest risks. I have a blog that goes in-depth about general risks of damage here which I strongly suggest reading. The largest common concerns with oral piercings are oral hygiene and care, properly fitted jewelry and placement, and being mindful with playing with jewelry. Good oral hygiene often solves the first one- brushing and flossing regularly. For tongues, opting for simpler jewelry thats easier to keep clean is also helpful. For placement and jewelry fit- seeing a reputable piercer is key as they will assess your tongue and mouth and place things accordingly. And a little self control helps with not playing with it.

But even with perfect hygiene, a perfect piercing with well fitting titanium jewelry, and a lot of self control you may still experience damage. Things like the way you pronounce certain words, your accent, the language you speak, clenching your jaw, or grinding at night can all cause this jewelry to rub on your teeth and gums and cause potential damage. And these are factors that are out of our ability to control and minimize. Like any oral piercing, if you decide to get a tongue piercing you should be aware of and understanding about the risks of this damage. While good oral hygiene, good jewelry, and care can greatly minimize damage (I wore my tongue piercing for over a decade with no damage) it can’t ever prevent it 100% of the time. So be aware of that risk. See your dentist often, check in about your teeth, and be careful!

Tongue piercings are a popular piercing with a long background. With a faster healing time and a range of cool jewelry it’s no surprise why. But tongue piercings also carry with them a high risk to your teeth and gums. You can minimize those risks but it will take work and effort, and a lot of regular dentists trips! Really consider those risks before opting to get a tongue piercing. But if you opt to, happy healing! My tongue piercing was my favorite piercing for almost 10 years. Being discreet, easily hidden, comfortable, and cool, it’s no wonder why.

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