What is a Tongue Piercing?

Mary McMahon

A tongue piercing is a piercing which goes through the tongue, classically in the front-center of the tongue, where the tongue is most mobile. This type of piercing is extremely common in the Western world, and while it is hard to find accurate statistics, chances are high that it is among the five most common piercing sites, with the ear of course being the most popular. People get tongue piercings for a wide variety of reasons, and there are several different variations on the basic tongue piercing for people who are feeling adventurous.

Mouthwash helps keep a tongue piercing clean.
Mouthwash helps keep a tongue piercing clean.

In a classic tongue piercing, the piercee is asked to stick out his or her tongue to be marked, and after approving the placement, the tongue is held in a clamp while a needle is inserted, and the jewelry is threaded through after the needle. Straight barbells are classically used for tongue piercings, with the bar being especially long for the initial piercing to leave lots of room for the tongue to swell. The piercing typically heals in four to six weeks, assuming that it is properly cared for.

Gargling water with sea salt can promote healing of the piercing site.
Gargling water with sea salt can promote healing of the piercing site.

Like any puncture wound, a tongue piercing is associated with some risks. The piercer can hit a vein in the tongue, causing bleeding, or a nerve, which may cause pain. Tongue piercings can also contribute to dental wear, receding gums, and the formation of scar tissue on the tongue, which is why sizing is so important. A tongue piercing may interfere with someone's ability to speak clearly or play a wind instrument. Migration of tongue piercings can be an issue as well.

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Straight barbells are typically used for tongue piercings.
Straight barbells are typically used for tongue piercings.

Oral piercings are unique because they are prone to dangerous infections in the early stages of healing, but they also heal very quickly. The mouth is one of the fastest healing parts of the body, and as long as plenty of supportive care is given while a piercing heals, piercees should be able to avoid infection. Aftercare for tongue piercings includes brushing and using mouthwash after every meal, even a soft drink or a cup of coffee, and the use of sea salt gargles to promote rapid healing.

Many people find that their tongues are very tender in the first few days of receiving a tongue piercing, and it's a good idea to eat soft, bland foods. Spicy foods can irritate the piercing, while hard, chewy, or sticky foods can hurt the piercing. Ice cream and smoothies are especially popular, since the coolness eases the associated pain and swelling.

In addition to the basic front and center tongue piercing, it is also possible to see double piercings, which may be side by side on the tongue, or at different intervals along the centerline of the tongue. Some people have also managed to successfully pierce the frenulum, the small flap of connective tissue beneath the tongue.

Piercing the tongue comes with certain risks.
Piercing the tongue comes with certain risks.

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