Tongue Piercing

Woman with two tongue piercings

Tongue piercing is becoming increasingly popular as adventurous souls look for new ways to extend their body art to the next level. Before you venture out to the piercing site, take some time to understand what the procedure holds for you, and what aftercare steps you need to take.

Getting Pierced

The procedure involves piercing a needle completely through the tongue from top to bottom, usually at the center point of the front third portion. Great care must be taken to avoid the major blood vessels to prevent profuse bleeding, although some bleeding should be expected. Once the hole has been made, a barbell shaped piece of stainless steel jewelry is inserted through the hole and fastened on the underside. The area is then rinsed thoroughly to help remove excess blood.

What to Expect

Man getting tongue pierced

Understand that tongue piercing isn't a walk in the park, even though the ultimate results can look fantastic. The procedure involves some discomfort because no anesthesia is used. However, the real pain sets in during the initial healing period. After your piercing is completed, expect:

  • Some continued bleeding during the first 24-48 hours, and intermittent bleeding over the first week
  • Pain, swelling and stiffness at the piercing site
  • Possible inflammation due to the bacteria level in the wound
  • Possible infection, again due to the anaerobic bacteria

Your body will also likely respond to your new tongue jewelry with an increase in saliva production. This is comparable to what new denture wearers experience as their body responds to what it considers to be an "intruder". Once the body accepts the new object as part of the normal scenery, the excessive saliva production should diminish.

It should also be noted that some individuals have also cracked their teeth with their new tongue jewelry during the initial period after the procedure, so be especially careful with that barbell until you are used to negotiating around it.

Before Piercing

Tongue jewelry

Before forging ahead with tongue piercing, there are a few things you should do to make sure you will be properly protected during the procedure.

Inspect Your Piercing Provider

Whether you have your piercing performed by a physician (and yes, some physicians are now providing this service), or at a body art or tattoo shop, make sure the proper sanitary precautions are being taken. This includes:

  • Only a fresh needle is used. Your piercing professional should be willing to unwrap the needle from its original packaging right in front of you.
  • An autoclave, or ultrasonic cleaner is clearly visible in the area. These units provide deep sterilization for reusable surgical instruments and are indispensable to tattoo and piercing shops, and can eliminate the transference of hepatitis, tetanus, HIV and other blood borne bacteria. If you're not sure you see one, don't be shy about asking your provider whether they use one and any other questions you may have about their sterilization practices. Professionals should be happy to answer your questions, and if they aren't, you should probably leave and find another place to have your piercing performed.
  • Fresh surgical gloves and mask are worn by the person performing your piercing.
  • The shop or office is generally clean. This is a great clue to how seriously your piercing professional takes sanitation.
  • The shop/office and your provider are properly licensed to perform piercings. Licensing usually implies that the premises have been inspected for safety and sanitary conditions on at least a yearly basis.

Prepare Yourself

If you've definitely decided to have your tongue pierced, take these steps to help reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth just before the procedure is performed:

  • Brush and floss thoroughly
  • Use a tongue scraper to remove the white coating of anaerobic bacteria that accumulates on the tongue surface and imbeds around the taste buds
  • Gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash for at least 30 seconds


Following your tongue piercing, you will be embarking on nearly around the clock care of the piercing site in an effort to reduce the chance of infection as much as possible. Be sure to:

  • Keep the piercing site scrupulously clean, including rinsing your mouth with a diluted non-alcohol mouthwash to keep the bacteria levels in the environment as low as possible. Even though alcohol does kill germs, it will also irritate your tender mouth tissues; you will be rinsing nearly a dozen times a day while your tongue piercing heals. Avoid hydrogen peroxide for the same reasons.
  • Avoid open mouth kissing and other oral activity that could transfer harmful bacteria to the piercing site.
  • Treat the area with a liquid antiseptic for several weeks after the procedure. Avoid using products such as Anbesol, a baby teething gel designed to reduce swelling and pain. It is too easy for bacteria to become trapped in the gel and thus trapped in the wound, promoting infection.

Other helpful hints for making the healing period pass a little more smoothly include:

  • Eat soft food for the first week. The less you have to chew and work your tongue, the less pain you'll experience.
  • Salt water soaks will sooth the piercing site and can promote healing.
  • Letting ice chips melt on your tongue will also reduce pain and swelling for the first 24-48 hours after the procedure.

Signs of Possible Infection

Because the mouth naturally harbors so much bacteria, post tongue piercing infections are fairly common, even if you take the proper precautions. Do not hesitate to see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Prolonged tongue swelling
  • Redness/inflammation
  • Fever
  • Yellow/green discharge from piercing site
  • Red streaks radiating from piercing site (could be a sign of blood poisoning)
  • Persistent bleeding
  • An increase in pain

Learn Before You Pierce

You owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about the procedure before hand; thoroughly check out the place the piercing will be performed at and follow through with a diligent after care regimen to help fight off the chance of developing a serious oral infection.

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