The thought of a tongue piercing seems like a risky, big-deal body-mod, and a wince-worthy painful proposition. But is it? Could an oral piercing hurt less than biting your tongue?
Will It Hurt?
A registered or licensed piercer will evaluate your suitability for a tongue piercing, check to be sure the placement you want will work, and then proceed to puncture the tongue muscle with a 14-gauge needle, from top to underside. Still on board? Okay, it could hurt. However, it might sting less than chomping down hard on your own tongue by mistake. It all depends on you - your pain tolerance, your relative good health, and the configuration of your tongue.
Most of your tongue is composed of muscles, glands and fat. Taste buds that send signals to nerves and blood vessels make up the rest. The hole in your tongue perforates mostly muscle, so after the initial sensation, the discomfort you feel will probably come from the swelling that follows the puncture.
What to Expect
Here's how the process works. Once you've filled out the forms and reviewed your placement and jewelry options, ask all your remaining questions. After you have that brand new addition to your mouth, you won't feel much like talking for a while.
- Your piercer will do a final check to locate your veins - this might involve shining a blue light into your mouth if the veins aren't easy to see. They'll mark your tongue in the correct spot to pierce - avoiding veins, not too close to the tip, and not touching your teeth.
- Next, the piercer clamps your tongue around the area to pierce and then punctures the spot with a stainless steel 14-gauge needle. It's very fast and you'll feel it, but only briefly.
- Leaving the long hollow needle in the hole, the piercer gets the long stud - either titanium or stainless steel - and inserts it into the new opening through the needle. These barbell studs have balls on either end and the piercer will screw the top ball on to secure the jewelry in place.
Give yourself the optimum chance for a successful tongue piercing by setting up your session with care.
Do Your Homework
Identify a certified practitioner and a clean, safe studio. Be sure that you understand the risks and aftercare, and carefully select the first stud to place in the hole while your piercing heals.
The Right Jewelry
The stud, or jewelry, should be sterile stainless steel or titanium to discourage infection. If you are allergic to steel, choose titanium. It should be a long barbell because your tongue tissue will swell after it is pierced and a too-short bar could lead to infection or dislodgment. It would definitely hurt if your tongue was constricted by swelling. In a couple of weeks, or sooner, when your tongue is back to normal, your piercer will swap the long barbell for a shorter one.
Before Your Appointment
Before you head to the piercing studio, brush and floss thoroughly, scrape your tongue clean, and rinse your mouth twice. Use an antiseptic mouthwash to create as germ-free an environment as possible. You'll probably want to eat a meal so you won't feel faint or weak during the piercing. Once the piercing is in place, you'll be eating a lot of ice pops and soft food, or drinking mostly smoothies until the wound heals and you get used to the sensations.
The Long and Short of Pain
Some say pain is all in the mind, but try telling that to your sensitive tongue. You may have a low pain tolerance and just feel things more than average. You are the final judge of what you can handle, but it's useful to know that tongue piercing is considered one of the least painful body modifications - piercing the cartilage of your upper ear, for example, is far more unpleasant. Expect the swelling that will happen around the site of the puncture to be less than fun - your tongue didn't choose this personal statement so it will react just like any traumatized body part.
The good news is that tongue piercings heal in about two weeks, much faster than other types of punctures. The wound will be sensitive for two or three days, but as long as you are basically healthy, it will soon be just a slight inconvenience. Keep it clean and the swelling should subside noticeably in about four days. Then you'll wonder why you bothered with all that nervous anxiety.
Don't Go It Alone
Here's a tip that could minimize the pain and maximize the social cred of doing the deed: Take a couple of your besties to the piercing session. An Oxford University study shows that people with more friends have lots of extra endorphins and higher pain thresholds. Plus, they post your selfies for you after the event.
You control what happens after you leave the piercing studio. Aftercare is critical and the habits you develop will keep your tongue piercing healthy, even after it heals.
- Always wash your hands before touching the piercing. No exceptions.
- Check the barbell at least twice a day to be sure it is secure.
- Brush after every meal with a good toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush and avoid jostling the barbell.
- Rinse several times a day with antimicrobial mouthwash to kill bacteria.
- Avoid fiddling with or biting the stud. You could crack a tooth or dislodge the barbell.
- Stick to non-alcoholic liquids and soft foods at first to avoid irritating or bumping the piercing.
- Skip your favorite oral contact with other people until the piercing is completely healed. You don't need shared germs complicating all the rest of the aftercare.
- Give yourself a break - you may need some downtime as your body adjusts to the trauma and the foreign object. Also, you might have to practice talking around the new addition to your mouth. This gets easier as the swelling goes down.
Myths to Ignore
It's sort of daring to pierce your tongue and that means you'll get a lot of made-up advice and "wisdom" from people who have no idea what they're talking about. Just smile and go about your business. You've got this.
Here are a few gems:
- Tongue piercings are purely sexual aids.: Not so. They provide minimal stimulation to sexual partners and do not indicate that you have taken up a life of easy virtue. So chill.
- The best way to celebrate your new tongue piercing is to go out drinking with your friends.: Not yet. Alcohol should be avoided in the first two to four weeks after getting your tongue pierced. Go when the wound has completely healed.
- Tongue piercings are prone to infection.: No, they're not, as long as you go to a clean studio, and take care of them. According to NHS.uk, tongue piercings actually have a small risk of infection.
- It's okay to smoke after you get your tongue pierced.: Smoking can irritate the already sensitive tissue and cause extra swelling. It can also prolong the healing process.
- Now you'll have a speech impediment.: Did you have one before? Then don't expect a brand new speech impediment for the cost of a mere tongue piercing. According to a study on tongue piercing and speech, any speech-associated side effects are typically short term and not permanent.
- The piercing will leave a big scar.: Actually, if you take out the stud, the hole will close over and leave a small scar that will be nearly imperceptible. But why would you do that? You just went to all the trouble of getting your tongue pierced.
At the Tip of Your Tongue
Body piercings aren't so unusual any more, but they do stand out in some environments, so make sure your tongue piercing passes muster with your significant other and in the hallowed halls of your place of employment. Then do your homework. The only real and lasting pain you'll feel is from a less-than-qualified piercer or your own lack of attention to hygienic aftercare. Those factors are totally within your control. Play it safe and your tongue piercing should be more pleasure than pain.