Last few weeks we talked about standard tongue piercings and paired tongue piercings here on the blog. Those articles, with a run down of anatomy, healing considerations, and and general information is a great read before this blog. Because today we are looking at the practice of stretching your tongue! And you may be thinking Lynn- stretching a tongue piercing?? Why? How? Well, that’s what this blog is here to answer. See, most piercings with some time and patience can be stretched a certain amount. Tongues can actually be stretched quite large given time and dedication. This is a practice that has been done for many years, with known roots in Moche culture of Peru (and potentially other cultures across South America as well, given current research). Even into modern times folks have still been stretching their tongue piercings. The practice is still fairly uncommon, but done never the less. I myself happily wore my tongue at 12mm aka 1/2 inch for many, many years. When I was starting out stretching there was little to no information anywhere. Some old threads on BME and word of mouth from others was all I had to work with. Now, years later, I want to write this guide so there is some information out there for others.
Please note that tongue stretching is still a very limited modification that very few folks do. This blog features personal experience and knowledge from myself and other professional piercers with stretched tongues. But, given how limited knowledge about this still is, this information is subject to change or improve over time as we learn and understand more, as new jewelry and tools come about, and as more folks opt to stretch and learn what works.
General Stretching Guide
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading my ear stretching guide first. It goes over the basics of how stretching works, how it effects the skin, and general good advice. As such, I won’t be reviewing that information here- this will assume you already understand those concepts!
So when it comes down to it, tongue stretching in it’s simplest form works the same as any other stretching. We are gradually enlarging the channel of a piercing in order to accommodate a slightly larger size. That remains true of stretching piercings no matter where they are in the body. Where tongue stretching differs from any other form of stretching is that we are stretching a muscle. In everything else we are simply stretching skin and tissue. The tongue however is entirely a muscle- and it’s very much not interested in being stretched.
Midline tongue piercings are the most common to stretch and also the easiest. A centered tongue piercing passes through the septum of the tongue- soft connective tissue between the sections of muscle on either side. This does make these much easier to stretch. The first few sizes are not too bad- 14 through to 10g or 8g tend to go fairly easily for most folks. My first time stretching from 14 to 12 before I decided to have my tongue repierced was easy- I was able to naturally stretch. The 12g bar just slipped right in with ease.
However, beyond those early sizes it is often not so easy. The muscles of the tongue are pressing down along the area of the piercing, they want to push in and together- essentially close right up. This means we are stretching against that muscle. Beyond that, the tongue is a series of muscles- not just two. And in my experience, and the experience of the others I’ve spoken to, there is a band of tissue generally in the center of your tongue piercing that as you stretch larger and larger becomes increasingly difficult to stretch around. I first noticed this around 4 or 2g- the top and bottom of my piercing loosened easily with time and stretched fine. But each stretch there was this tightness in the center of the piercing was was miserable to stretch through. It had a popping sensation every time I stretched, no matter how long I waited or how gradual my increments were between stretching. And honestly- it hurt. It was quite unpleasant every time.
As a piercer my working theory is that area is connective tissue between the lower and upper sections of muscle in the tongue. Denser, thicker tissue that is very tricky to stretch. Not everyone with a stretched tongue I’ve spoken to has experienced this- but the vast majority have reported similar sensations at some sizes of a band of much tighter tissue in the middle or lower portion of their piercing as they stretch.
Due to this, tapers are often necessary to assist with tongue stretching. When made and used correctly for this purpose they are very effective. Its important to remember this is not like ear stretching - this is a muscle that doesn’t want to be stretched so we often do need tools and assistance to make a stretch happen. This also means we are often intentionally causing micro tears as we stretch- there’s sometimes no other way to get the tongue to the next size. Because of this, it’s extra important we go 1mm or .5mm at a time to minimize the amount of damage we cause each stretch. It’s also imperative we listen to our bodies and go slowly between stretches- 3-5 months, sometimes longer. I waited at times 6-8 months between stretched because I could tell my tongue simply was not ready.
Trying to rush stretching too quickly or skip sizes could lead to the usual issues of tears and blowouts. But in the tongue it can more worryingly lead to issues with speech and eating, and damage to the mouth. All things we absolutely do not want to risk. So please, go slowly.
Paired tongue piercings- one on either side, pass directly through the muscles of the tongue and are much, much more difficult to stretch due to this. Stretching those beyond an 8g can sometimes lead to issues with speech and eating, so be aware of that. These usually always need a taper and often a piercer to assist with stretching them, so definitely seek out a piercer experienced with this placement and piercing.
Most folks who have tongue piercings already are aware of how much they swell when they are freshly pierced. We recall those days of slurred words and fumbling over food. Well, I am here to warn you that stretching can also often make your tongue swell as well. It’s not a guarantee every stretch, and it may not always happen, but it absolutely can. It tends to be about as much as a fresh tongue piercing- with the added bonus of new thicker jewelry which can make talking and eating a unique challenge. Soft foods that don’t need too much chewing tend to be easiest as you adjust to both your new stretch and your swollen tongue. And cool water swishes, ice cream, and water ice can definitely soothe the swelling. Given the risks of swelling with a stretch I would be prepared every time just in case.
Oral Health Risks
Like we discussed in my tongue piercing blog, these piercings do carry a real risk to your teeth and gums. And stretching can decently increase this risk. Larger jewelry- larger surface area to hit your teeth and gums. These risks are absolutely something to consider before choosing to stretch. You need to be aware of them and also do what you can to minimize that risk.
Stretching only a piercing placed well for this is a huge factor. If your plan is moderate stretching then most well pierced standard tongue piercings will work. But if your plan is to go very large, you may discuss getting pierced slightly further back to keep jewelry away from your front teeth as this piercing increases in diameter.
Good oral hygiene is also a huge factor in minimizing damage. Larger stretched tongues can attract more plaque, and this buildup can be very bad for your mouth. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing are all essential. As your jewelry gets very large, using denture cleaner may be your best choice to get stubborn stuck on plaque off of your jewelry.
And of course, the biggest factor in minimizing damage is the jewelry its self that you choose to wear.
Jewelry is one of the biggest factors in tongue stretching, and for many years was one of the most difficult. When I began stretching there was very little in the way of really great jewelry choices for these piercings, and most had more cons then pros. Fortunately, that has changed in recent years and there is a ton more out there for safe, comfortable, practical jewelry.
At smaller sizes you’ll be sticking with implant grade titanium barbells. These threaded pieces are compatible with tapers which makes them very easy to stretch with, and their mirror finish makes keeping them clean simpler.They are also more sturdy at these smaller sizes. Most folks will use titanium up to about a 4g.
From there, metal becomes more of a hassle than a help. It’s very heavy, which can make speech tricky. Larger metal beads can become more of a risk of damaging your teeth and gums as you eat, talk, and drink. And they simply become cumbersome. Fortunately, there are great alternatives. Glasswear Studios offers glass plugs designed for stretched tongues. They have a custom wearable modified to exactly the length you need for your tongue, and a smooth, domed top that’s low profile to avoid your teeth. The bottom can be done no flare, with a micro flare, or with a full flare depending on your tongue and what’s comfy. I wore their micro flare style for years in my tongue to great comfort. Glass was my personal favorite thing for my tongue due to the ease of cleaning, light weight which made speaking easy, and the cool designs and colors I could get them in. I also partner with Glasswear Studios so you can use code LYNN for 20% off your first order!
Stone wolf adornments and south shore adornments also both make delrin pieces for stretched tongues. Similar to glasswear these are fully customizable for your anatomy. Delrin pieces can be super affordable, and made threaded or with closure mechanisms which some folks prefer! These pieces are very custom so contact the makers directly about your siding and needs.
As someone who adored my stretched tongue for many many years, it makes me incredibly happy to see so many folks interested in stretching theirs. I am happy to see the tradition kept alive and the practice still honored today. I would love to see historians turn their eyes to researching the history of this practice in other cultures and religions and to learn more of the history and how we can honor this practice. If you are considering stretching your tongue, I hope this guide helps! And please go into this process honoring your body, your health, and the cultures this practice came from. Happy healing!