by Emily Boge, RDH, BS, MPAc
In spite of the expected tongue piercing pain, and the complications that can come with it, various types of piercings have existed for generations. The ancient Aztecs pierced their tongues to honor their Gods. Religious cultures in Australia, the Middle East and other Muslim regions used oral jewelry to symbolize their commitment to their faith and ward off evil spirits.
Today, oral piercings continue to gain global popularity across several age groups. As individuals pursue tongue piercing – as an artistic expression or simply recreational decoration – it is important to understand the safety and care necessary in piercings and the certification required of piercing establishments.
The Tongue Piercing Process
Tongue piercing involves the formation of a hole through the tongue muscle, generally accomplished by puncturing the tongue with a 14-gauge needle from top to bottom. The hole is then immediately filled with a gauged piece of jewelry to prevent the perforation from closing as it heals. This jewelry often resembles a barbell, with various types of threaded caps that screw onto the base of the bar to secure the piece and prevent the wearer from swallowing it. Threaded caps can be made from various metals, plastics or silicone material.
How Professionals Advise Aftercare
The oral environment, particularly the warm textured surface of the tongue, is predisposed to bacterial growth. For this reason, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tongue piercings are susceptible to infection if not properly cared for – especially after placement. Because piercing establishments need to explain the importance of aftercare for tongue piercings, the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) provides a complete procedure manual for piercers to educate their clients on these ideals. They can also maintain proper records to ensure safe and legal piercing in their establishments.
Both piercers and those who choose to opt for a tongue piercing need to be aware of the potential complications and risks associated. Piercology states some of these common errors, which put an individual at a greater risk for infection, include choosing a non-sterile piercing environment, touching the piercing with dirty hands while it's healing, wearing a damaged or poor quality piece of jewelry and improperly cleaning the pierced area.
To avoid chipped or broken teeth, which some may experience, it is recommended that the length of the barbell bar be reduced after the tongue has adjusted to the piercing. Those with tongue piercings are encouraged to replace the metal ended ball on the barbell with a silicone or soft plastic ball, as well. They are also asked to avoid playing with the barbell or biting on tongue jewelry, which can increase the chances of tooth and gum damage.
Curbing Tongue Pain and Infection
Those with tongue piercings should always wash their hands with warm soapy water and check the security of the threaded ball at each end of the barbell twice daily. It is also encouraged to brush twice a day after meals with a germ-killing toothpaste and rinse with an alcohol-free mouthrinse for at least 30 seconds to ensure proper disinfection. By using quality antimicrobial products, each with their own effective germ-killers, you run a much smaller risk of tongue piercing pain and the related infection.
The use of a new, soft-bristled toothbrush to cleanse the tongue can also help reduce bacteria and inflammation following the piercing. Colgate® SlimSoft™ is a great choice for this task because its forgiving material allows you to brush the cheeks, tongue and jewelry itself without causing further irritation.
Maintaining oral health with the addition of an oral piercing can be a challenge, and individuals must take additional steps to reduce their risk of tongue piercing pain brought on by a complication. By using gentle but quality products to care for the pierced area, the duration of healing should be much shorter.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.