A Beginner's Guide to In-Mouth Piercings

woman showing off inner lip piercing


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When you think of a piercing in your mouth, your mind probably goes straight to tongue piercings. While edgier than your average lip ring, tongue piercings are the most, shall we say, typical style of in-mouth piercing. But there are several styles and placements for you to consider if this is a road you'd like to go down. First thing's first, piercings inside the mouth can be extra sensitive and tricky to care for, so make sure you're ready to commit.

You might be surprised to learn that piercings inside your mouth are very different from ones on the outside of your body. They come with their own set of risks, aftercare instructions, and possible healing difficulties. In short, they're not to be taken lightly, though they can look really cool when done right. We've rounded up what you should know about in-mouth piercings before you decide to get one.

In-Mouth Piercings

Placement: Center of the tongue or the webbing underneath the tongue

Pricing: $30-$50 for piercing only

Pain Level: 6+

Healing Time: Three to four weeks

Aftercare: No smoking; avoid kissing and oral sex; rinse with non-alcoholic mouthwash several times a day, especially after meals.

What is an In-Mouth Piercing?

In-mouth piercings come in several different varieties. Tongue piercings have become one of the most popular options for people into body modification. Still, this piercing can cause some difficulties. Placement is crucial to avoid getting a speech impediment afterward. Frowny frenulum piercings are performed across the thin line of tissue (frenulum) that connects your bottom lip to your gums. It usually can't be seen unless intentionally revealed, making it a popular choice for people who want a piercing they can hide. And smiley (also known as scrumper) piercings are done in the upper lip frenulum, the thin connective tissue that links your upper lip to your gums. This piercing can often be seen when you smile, hence the name.

Pain and Healing Time

This will vary slightly depending on the type of in-mouth piercing you choose. Generally speaking, "the piercing that is done first will hurt the least, the piercing that is done last will hurt the most," says Brian Keith Thompson, owner and Chief Piercing Officer of Body Electric Tattoo in Los Angeles. "It's tolerable; you can do it. Just muster up the courage." Standard tongue piercings will likely hurt less than some alternative placements.

Tongue piercings are done with a large needle (10 to 14 gauge). Swelling and soreness can last for three to four weeks. A smiley piercing or tongue web piercing should heal in about four weeks if you're healthy and do proper aftercare. However, healing times can vary widely per person. "Piercings are a patience game," says Thompson, who suggests that most will take "at least 10 to 12 weeks to heal."

Cost of an In-Mouth Piercing

The price of an in-mouth piercing will vary depending on the type and the cost of the jewelry you select. With most piercing services, the piercing itself is priced separately from the jewelry. Be wary of salons that charge too little–if a mouth piercing is advertised for $20 or less, run. "You think you're getting a deal, but you're really not, so definitely spend the money," says Thompson. Mouth piercings, in particular, are especially delicate because they can lead to permanent damage if done or cared for poorly.

"If it's really cheap and they're offering deals, I would say that's a red flag. If you're good at what you do, you don't have to offer a discount," Thompson adds.

Aftercare

Most piercers recommend multiple daily sea salt rinses during healing. "After oral piercings, make sure to rinse the mouth often with non-alcoholic mouthwash after eating and before bed. Make sure not to share food or saliva with others during the healing process to avoid infection," says dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling. "A barbell in your mouth, or any type of metal, will harbor a little bit more bacteria. So, if you do have one of these piercings, you need to make sure that you're keeping your oral hygiene up to par and brushing the jewelry, the backside of it, cleaning it, getting all the plaque and bacteria off," says Thompson. 

Unfortunately for some, you can't smoke or even use harsh mouthwash while your tongue is healing. You're even advised against kissing and oral sex during the healing process, at least while the wound is fresh. Over-cleaning the piercing can also cause problems. If you experience irritation, don't panic. "Most of the time, it's not an actual bacterial infection, it's an irritation from trauma from cheaper jewelry, jewelry laden with nickel, or, sometimes, the client is just a little too overzealous with cleaning it," says Thompson. "They think, 'well now I'm going to clean it three times a day, and I'm going to cover it with alcohol and antibiotic ointment,' and that is not going to fix the problem. The problem is that you need to leave it alone."

Side Effects of Piercing

Problems that can develop later down the lines with tongue piercings include the risk of chipping your teeth and biting down on your jewelry.

  • Migration or rejection: Frowny piercings are extremely prone to migration and rejection. Unfortunately, most people don't have enough tissue for a successful piercing, but some piercers will do it anyway.
  • Pain and swelling: These are extremely common side effects for any piercings and don't necessarily indicate a serious problem. However, tongue or lip swelling "can make breathing difficult," notes Sperling, who adds that this "can be life-threatening."
  • Mouth trauma: Playing with your new piercing too much can result in a chipped tooth or damage to the gums. "Teeth are very expensive to fix, and it's something to think about," notes Thompson.
  • Allergic reaction: "Allergic reactions can occur with piercings if allergic to nickel, cobalt, or gold, among others," says Sperling. Be mindful of the metal your new jewelry is made from.

"There is a risk of infection with any type of piercing. The risk of infection is even greater in the oral mucosa since there are tons of bacteria there," notes Sperling.

How to Change Out In-Mouth Piercing

"Three months is my Golden Rule," says Thompson. He recommends at least 10 to 12 weeks with the same piece of jewelry. "Change it out with something of quality," he adds. "It's been three to four months, and then you put something of low-quality in, and notice [the piercing] starts to regress. That's because it is technically healed, but it takes almost a year for your body to be able to wear anything."

What Type of Jewelry Is Used for In-Mouth Piercing?

  • Curved barbell: This is the most common type of jewelry for a new tongue or lingual frenulum piercings; it's a curved bar with balls on either side, one of which is removable for easy application. According to Thompson, this style of jewelry remains relatively stationary, making it a great pick for a new in-mouth piercing. "The more the piercing is rotated, the longer it's going to take for it to heal."
  • Captive bead ring: Another style popular for new piercings under the tongue, this is a hoop with a fixed bead in the center. These are popular for frowny frenulum piercings.
  • Circular barbell: For smiley frenulum piercings, delicate jewelry is usually used in the form of a circular barbell. Circular is a misnomer, as the barbell is horseshoe-shaped.

What Jewelry Material Is Used for In-Mouth Piercing?

  • Titanium: Thompson prefers "hypoallergenic metals" without nickel, like titanium and gold. "Nickel is not going to kill you. It's not going to poison you, but it can cause a slower heal."
  • Gold: Another good option for in-mouth piercings, gold is a softer metal that can be easier on the teeth and gums, according to Thompson. Just be sure you're finding quality, solid gold rather than gold-plated jewelry, which can flake off and encourage infection.

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